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September 5, 2008

You wrote what?
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 12:54 PM * 293 comments

We are a widely-read crowd, which means by the Sturgeon’s law at least we’ve all read some pretty bad prose. In the spirit of the much-mourned You Knit What? blog, I’d like to see some of the worst you’ve found.

To start you off, a passage from the ever-delightful Fletcher Battershall, writing about the choice of leathers in Bookbinding for Bibliophiles (The Literary Collector Press, 1905):

The goat himself has few virtues; all ages have condemned him. In Attic groves he was ever a terror to the tender nymph, a follower of wine-bibbers, and of general ill-repute. Yearly he wandered in the desert, bearing the sins of a whole people on his horny pate. At some future day we know he is to be divided from the sheep. But this merit, if no other, he has above other beasts: his hide is tough. Properly tanned in sumach he is transmuted to a thing of beauty, suffers a “sea-change” into something fair, and is honored above the very clay of Caesar.

And then to thy once shaggy breast,
Now purified, shalt thou enfold
Frail Manon and fair Juliet

So sings some forgotten bibliomaniac. We despised him living, but we prize him dead. Such injustice is common to us.

Gimme what you got; ransack your shelves.


  1. Only published work. No slush, ye publishing-house people! That’s unfair advantage.
  2. Only commercially published work. Sorry, not Lulu, so no Atlanta Nights
  3. Extra points awarded for the contrast between the subject and the tone, as above

This is an apolitical thread. Violators will be mocked, if they’re lucky, and thrown to the weary masses if they’re not.

Comments on You wrote what?:
#1 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:02 PM:

I take it that raiding the Thog archives is cheating, as well? Goodness knows there's enough of this kind of thing in there.

(Grainger's immortal line "Come, muse, let us sing of rats" presumably doesn't count either. It appears in a published work, but that work is a collection of bad poetry. It got deleted from the actual poem because it was too giggle-worthy to live.)

#2 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:05 PM:

Dang! I already re-purposed the worst books in my (former) possession by sending them to a friend in Illinois. (If I can't read it without pain, it goes in that pile and I send them away.)

#3 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:13 PM:

Ginger #2: Does your friend still speak to you? (Or does she have a wood-burning stove?)

#4 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:13 PM:

Do labels count? I hope so, because I was greatly amused by two labels recently.

1) A label on my peanut butter, noting that "this product contains peanuts". I certainly hope so.

2) A label on a package of something in the South-east Asian grocery store. "Spice for Spiced Food." That was the entire English description of the product.

#5 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:13 PM:

Came across this gem in an otherwise by-the-book (heh) detective number:

The moon hung in the sky, like a luminous rock.

I read it a couple more times, just to be sure I'd really read it, but the sentence stubbornly refused to vanish from either page or brain. That was when I shut the book and walked away.

#6 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:19 PM:

Abi --

Should it disturb me that, aside possibly from the choice of quote, I can't see what's to complain about in your example?

#7 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:21 PM:

Are we allowed foreign languages? Because the only one I can do from memory (misspent youth) is:

O fortunatam natam me consule Romam! - Cicero, On his consulship.

It's a hexameter. Just about. Fortunately, the rest of the epic is lost.

#8 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:22 PM:

May I intrude upon this post with verse? If so, I can supply this thrilling stanza from Edward George E. L. Bulwer-Lytton's King Arthur, in which Gawain advises his king to rest before questing for various McGuffins hidden by dwarves. (I believe that's the context, anyway. It's a bit difficult to follow Bulwer-Lytton's plot among the wilds and thickets of his syntax.)

"Permit me now your royal limbs to wrap,
In these warm relicts of departed bears;
And while from Morpheus you decoy a nap,
My skill the grain shall gather from the tares.
The pigmy tongue my erudite pursuits
Have traced ad unguem to the nasal roots!"

#9 ::: Peter Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:24 PM:

"We were bogged down in circular arguments going nowhere. We needed to break the logjam - but time and money were running out." - from Fighting the Banana Wars, by Harriet Lamb.

#10 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:25 PM:

2) A label on a package of something in the South-east Asian grocery store. "Spice for Spiced Food." That was the entire English description of the product.

A lot of that stuff is computer-translated (and not with the good software). 'Snot really fair to single out Asian uses of English - it's often used in Japan, frex, as a sort of advertising garnish, where the meaning to a native speaker is of negligible importance. One day I hope to learn enough Japanese to be able do to their language what they do to ours.

#11 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:28 PM:

OK, found one (small pile behind the settee):

from Jennifer Fulton, who also writes as Grace Lennox and Rose Beecham; this is the beginning of a bad book:
"There should be a law against you," said the corn-silk blonde sharing Penn's table.
"For making women wet?" Penn asked.
The leg touching hers quivered. "Arrogant and hot. How can I resist?"

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:29 PM:

"He has both feet firmly on the ground, but without going overboard about it."

(From an article in the Business Section of the San Francisco Chronicle.)

#13 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Should it disturb me that, aside possibly from the choice of quote, I can't see what's to complain about in your example?

Yeah, I thought it was a little overwrought, but not without charm.

#14 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:32 PM:

albatross @3: Apparently, her partner likes most of what I send. The rest can be recycled to the younger crowd at the college where she teaches.

There's just no accounting for taste. I would have posted from a truly awful book, only I checked the publisher and darnit, it's a vanity press! I could only go to Amazon and point this out in my 1-star review. The other reviews for this same book, by the way, were 5 and 4 stars.

I guess some women are just so desperate for any book at all with lesbians in it that they ignore the awful writing.

#15 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:33 PM:

We will leave off the Fanthorpe. That's too easy a source. Instead, let us go to the writing of H.C. Turk. I'm unfortunate in not currently having access to either Ether Ore or Black Body. The first is bad enough -- when I ask people to guess the ending of the book, about 2/3 succeed. And it's full of Artful Misspellings.

More than 10 years since my last reading, I still remember (approximately) the opening line of Black Body: "Little did I know as I slipped in the birth slime between my mothers' legs that of the three women watching, two were witches and one was a hag." The only possible excuse for the publication of the rest is that someone thought it was a pastiche of bad Victorian pornography. And it was published by a major hardcover art publisher (Villard).

Makes "The Eye of Argon" look tame.

#16 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:34 PM:

Graydon @6:

The book is intended as a scholarly examination of the art of bookbinding from the perspective of a book collector.

I have many books about books, but no other author in the field has reminded me of Thomas de Quincey on a bad day.

#17 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:35 PM:

And me with all my Jim Butcher books in my other suit.

#18 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:43 PM:

On the subject of bad prose, I'm sure most people here will be familiar with it, but if anyone hasn't read Matt Taibbi's masterly dissection of Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat", you just should.

#19 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:44 PM:

Tom, #15: Is the misplaced apostrophe your typo, or does it appear that way in the original? If the latter, all I can say is that he must have been talking about an alien species!

#20 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 01:44 PM:

In the Bad Writing by Great Writers category--Theodore Dreiser trying to sound like Henry James.

"Oh, Carrie, Carrie! Oh, blind strivings of the human heart! Onward, onward, it saith, and where beauty leads, there it follows. Whether it be the tinkle of a lone sheep bell o'er some quiet landscape, or the glimmer of beauty in sylvan places, or the show of soul in some passing eye, the heart knows and makes answer, following. It is when the feet weary and hope seems vain that the heartaches and the longings arise. Know, then, that for you in neither surfeit nor content. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel."

*wiping the purple off my hands*

#21 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:05 PM:

I don't know if advertising is cheating?

"When Baldacci is on fire, no one can touch him."

-From a subway ad earlier this year for the new David Baldacci novel. I'm not even sure whether that qualifies as a mixed metaphor or something else entirely.

#22 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:08 PM:

My issues with Mr. Battershall:

In Attic groves he was ever a terror to the tender nymph, a follower of wine-bibbers, and of general ill-repute.

That last clause, while technically grammatical, took extra effort to parse because the second "of" led me to expect a parallel construction (something like "a follower of wine-bibbers, and of harlots"). It's a modest example of a garden-path sentence.

suffers a “sea-change” into something fair

Cliché abuse.

#23 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:09 PM:

I'm at work so I'm quoting from memory, but I know where the book is at home. I'm reasonably certain it's in Debra Mullins' Scandal of the Black Rose

"her orgasm left her shaken like a wet kitten"

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:10 PM:

Ginger @ 14... Didn't Dick Cheney's wife once write a novel about two lesbians on the Frontier?

#25 ::: cmb adams ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:11 PM:

"He rolled on his hip, tipping her. The room rocked around him and her thighs parted. He lowered himself into the splay, touching stiffly against her. She flinched. He made a humorous face, but it faded straightaway. Then he strained forward and she spread around him.

Sam felt her emotions in a vibrant cascade: her wonder, her joy, her longing. She tendered him what was innermost--her hunger, her sadness, her desperate hope. And then she was asking, reaching for his heart. He hesitated at her insistence. She met his fear as she had before, elation vanishing, risking abandonment, summoning her courage and asking again, showing him how to surrender. His resistance dissolved and he let himself go, heart molten and flowing to meet her. He felt himself at her center, warm and joined, her soft moan in his ear. It was if she'd been searching for her real self her whole life, and now she had found it. They rode the moment together.

Then, strangely, Sam felt her ask again. Had he only imagined her peace? How could it fade so quickly? Her body strained violently, ignoring the pain of a still tighter coupling, or seeking it, as if what had just past was nothing, and there was something deeper and more meaningful to feel. He hesitated asa sigh hissed from her throat and her teeth raked his neck. It was as if she was seeking some kind of weakness in him, delving for flaws, or stirring herself to create them. Lindy appeared to sense his alarm, but instead of calming him, she grew bolder. 'This body isn't my real one,' she seemed to say. 'Watch me shred this soft skin and pull my sweet face off.'"

--from Wild Animus by Rich Shapero
the worst book I've ever read

#26 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:13 PM:

Not to mention that classic by Keats, Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain:

...My ear is open like a greedy shark,
To catch the tunings of a voice divine.
Frankly, woman may be flippant and vain, but at least she didn't write *that*.

#27 ::: wintermute ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Well, since The Eye of Argon has finally been published, I nominate this:

Eyeing a slender female crouched alone at a nearby bench, Grignr advanced wishing to wholesomely occupy his time. The flickering torches cast weird shafts of luminescence dancing over the half naked harlot of his choice, her stringy orchid twines of hair swaying gracefully over the lithe opaque nose, as she raised a half drained mug to her pale red lips.

Frankly, any random paragraph would do, but I love the fact that her nose's opacity needs to be pointed out...

Emily H:
Ninjas can't catch you if you're on fire. Which comes from here.

#28 ::: Fred ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:19 PM:

"Ashley was now wearing only brief white panties. She had signaled her desire by removing her shirt and skirt, and by leaning back on the couch. She closed her eyes, concentrating on nothing but Shannon's tongue and lips. He gently teased her by licking the areas around her most sensitive erogenous zone. Then he slipped her panties down her legs and, within seconds, his tongue was inside her, moving rapidly."

- Bill O'Reilly, Those Who Trespass

Although maybe all writing about sex should be excluded, since it's exceptionally difficult to write that well.

#29 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:20 PM:

Serge @ 24: Why, so she did. Searching for Lynne Cheney brought me to Sisters. Too bad this isn't one of the books you can "look inside", or I'd have quoted from it.

#30 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:23 PM:

..and apparently, Mrs. Cheney's opus is out of print, with no one allowed to reprint it, so I must search the used bookstores for it.

#31 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:25 PM:

..but wait! Someone has the pdf online!

The White House?

#32 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:30 PM:

Emily H #21:

Well, not without oven mitts.

#33 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:32 PM:

Er, shouldn't that be whitehouse.GOV? Then again, maybe not....

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:32 PM:

I think we may want to go lightly on the sex scenes.

#35 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:33 PM:

Wow. Over thirty posts in and not a mention of the dreaded Harry Stephen Keeler? Note to self: Once home, retrieve copy of Riddle of the Traveling Skull...

#36 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:33 PM:

Fred #28:

Is it that such writing is exceptionally difficult to do well, or just exceptionally easy to do badly? (Or both?)

(Wasn't there a thread on ML a very long time ago about this?)

#37 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:41 PM:

Now I wish I hadn't taken the Ken Follett to the charity shop. All I have left is bad sex writing.

"Barbee was looking at her teeth. They were even and strong and very white - the sort of teeth with which beautiful women in dentifrice advertisements gnawed bones. It occurred to him that the spectacle of April Bell gnawing a red bone would be infinitely fascinating."
- from Darker Thank You Think. Something on your mind, Jack Williamson?

"Luxuriant hair grew thickly upon the round hill of her pubic mound. Sometimes she liked to imagine it was a forest and she the most diminutive of explorers, wandering through it. He fingers slipped down to the opening of her labyrinth, felt moistness, and lingered. It was an enchanted forest, and silent. Not even birds sang in the branches."
- from around the point when The Iron Dragon's Daughter took a very strange turn.

I was going to quote a bit from 'The Mouser Goes Below' by Fritz Leiber, but the prose isn't really that funny - just the fact of the Mouser witnessing a sado-masochistic lesbian threesome.

#38 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:42 PM:

#28 Fred: By that Bill O'Reilly? *shudder* (I did think it was a lesbian scene until the "his". Hmph, unisex names. :D)

#39 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:43 PM:

It can't quite compete with all the delightful lubricious extracts already posted, but when I'm particularly depressed, I turn to Joan Windham's delightful martyrology, MORE SAINTS FOR SIX O'CLOCK to cheer me up.

A snippet can't begin to convey the cumulative hilarity, but here's an extract from "St. Dorothy" (capitalization original):

"Well, what Happened was that Theophilus and his friends finished having Tea and then went to the Governor Fabricius, and the Pagan Ones said that they'd turned into Christians, and the Others said that they were sorry they'd Stopped Being Christians and that they were going to Be Them Again, and the Governor Fabricius gave them to Lions to Eat, and so they were Martyrs too! Dorothy and All the Others were pleased to see them when they got to Heaven! Well, there seem to be Rather a Lot of Martyrs in this Story, don't there?"

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:45 PM:

If someone else has taken that dreadful Keats sonnet, then I get McGonagall:

It must have been an awful sight,
To witness in the dusky moonlight,
While the Storm Fiend did laugh, and angry did bray,
Along the Railway Bridge of the Silv'ry Tay,
Oh! ill-fated Bridge of thSilv'ry Tay,
I must now conclude my lay
By telling the world fearlessly without the least dismay,
That your central girders would not have given way,
At least many sensible men do say,
Had they been supported on each side with buttresses,
At least many sensible men confesses,
For the stronger we our houses do build,
The less chance we have of being killed.

(The Tay Bridge Disaster)

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:45 PM:

abi @ 34... I think we may want to go lightly on the sex scenes

...especially if Holly is going to have breakfast at Tiffany's.

#42 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Nenya at #38: Wikipedia is your friend:

Those Who Trespass, a novel by that Bill O'Reilly.

#43 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:51 PM:

Deadly Perversions by Brett Arquette was a very thorough example of how to do appalling things to poor innocent words. As proof that I'm just not that bright, a friend gave it to me and said it was the worst thing he'd ever read, and I said "Really? Can I borrow it?" I'm also the one who always falls for "This is gross; here, try it." Sadly, I've since passed it on, and Amazon won't let me look inside it.

Actually, I'm perfectly okay with that.

#44 ::: Sarah S ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:53 PM:

Serge @41.

True, man.

#45 ::: SisterCoyote ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:54 PM:

I have read almost the entire "Touched By Venom" (a.k.a., the "Venom synonym-for-rooster") series. In fact, I am so much of a masochist that I recently requested the third book from my local library.

The books won't get any points for tone not matching subject, unfortunately.

I'm sure there are others (I threw Sphere across the room, for one), but as those are the most recent horror I've subjected myself to, they're the ones I'm listing. That, and I have a tendency to purge bad books from my memory.

#46 ::: Emil ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 02:55 PM:

I haven't read this book, but The Book of Kings by James Thackara is the subject of one of the great critical hatchet-jobs of all time; there's enough of a flavour of JT's masterwork in Philip Hensher's review that I'm always on the lookout for it in second-hand bookshops...

#47 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:00 PM:

One of my favorite bits of strange prose is from the label of a cider I much enjoy. I keep meaning to send it to "sic" on World Wide Words.

Ingredients: Hard Cider, Less than 1% of natural flavor, Sulfites and sorbates added to protect flavor, Naturally gluten free.

#48 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:04 PM:

I remember a book called To the Resurrection Station by Eleanor Arnason, but no longer have a copy. I seldom outright discard books, but that one was so bad I couldn't stand to have it in my house.

I read some passages of it at a Fanoclasts meeting, to general hilarity.

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:04 PM:

"And you cannot deny that he has a magnificent death ray."
"That's... That's hardly a basis for a stable relationship."

(From Girl Genius of course.)

#50 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:08 PM:

SisterCoyote @ #45. Wow. You are a strong and brave reader. I'm known as the "Mikey" of my set, as I'll read almost anything. Even I could not finish the Venom series.


#51 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:09 PM:

Soemone has to mention James Fenimore Cooper: open any book to any page, and you can find such wonders of prose as the following. (From "The Spy").

To Katy Haynes it had been a day fruitful of incident. The prudent housekeeper had kept her political feelings in a state of rigid neutrality; her own friends had espoused the cause of the country, but the maiden herself never lost sight of that important moment, when, like females of more illustrious hopes, she might be required to sacrifice her love of country on the altar of domestic harmony. And yet, notwithstanding all her sagacity, there were moments when the good woman had grievous doubts into which scale she ought to throw the weight of her eloquence, in order to be certain of supporting the cause favored by the pedler. There was so much that was equivocal in his movements and manner, that often, when, in the privacy of their household, she was about to offer a philippic on Washington and his followers, discretion sealed her mouth, and distrust beset her mind. In short, the whole conduct of the mysterious being she studied was of a character to distract the opinions of one who took a more enlarged view of men and life than came within the competency of his housekeeper.
#52 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:11 PM:

Emil@46: From the review, quoting from the book:
Justin's friend was not in the courtyard, but the fountain was.

That's... wow. Words, they fail me. Now I have to be on the lookout for this masterpiece, too. Thanks for alerting me to its existence!

#53 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:14 PM:

"I never make love on an empty stomach."
- Eva Marie Saint to Cary Grant in North by Northwest

#54 ::: Julie ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:23 PM:

How about the Canadian poet James McIntyre's Ode on the Mammoth Cheese?

We have seen the Queen of cheese
Laying quietly at your ease.
Gently fanned by evening breeze --
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you'll go
To the great Provincial Show.
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Tornto.

(Typos are my own. My keyboard was so horrified it refused to cut and paste.)

#55 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:25 PM:

"My ear is open like a greedy shark, to catch the tunings of a voice divine."

John Donne, as quoted by Peter Wimsy in Gaudy Night.

#56 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:34 PM:

I think that slacktivist's leisurely demolition of LaHaye & Jenkins' odious Left Behind series deserves a lifetime achievement award in this category.

#57 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:38 PM:

Xopher @48: I have that book around here somewhere. Sadly enough, I've read things far worse than that one.

#58 ::: Tracey ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:44 PM:

I nominate everything on the Sticks and Stones page. This page contains nothing but samples of bad published writing.

#59 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:47 PM:

#37: "The Mouser Goes Below" wasn't really "bad", it was just boring. And everyone knows there were only five Fafhrd and Mouser "Swords" books.

#60 ::: legionseagle ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:52 PM:

"Oh," said Hart, as he felt the curve of her breast through the thermal underwear.

Possibly one of the less ept sex scenes in the canon.

Sam Llewellyn, Great Circle. A thriller set on a round the World yacht race. Sex, sailing and skullduggery at 60 degrees South - unputdownable, even given the occasional blip (see above).

#61 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 03:55 PM:
Only that morning he had been talking with some one in the office about it, and had been laughingly informed that there was a method that could bring back to his memory that which he desired so ardently to recollect. "If you will tell me how to unravel this tangle that is in my brain, you will have my everlasting gratitude," declared Lester, earnestly.

"It takes people with nerves of steel to accomplish it. A person who is nervous to the slightest degree would not dare to try it, for fear of turning suddenly insane from the terrible mental struggle. Do you still wish to know what it is?"

"Yes," responded Lester, "and I can use my judgment whether I dare try it or not."

"Very good," replied the gentleman, "then here it is: Counting five thousand backward will either restore your loss of memory, or, as I have taken care to warn you gravely in advance, cause you to go insane. It must be done rapidly, and in a given space of time. In my belief the remedy is by far worse than the malady. I feel, somehow, as though I ought not to have told you about it."

(Mischievous Maid Faynie, a 19th century romance novel by Laura Jean Libbey)

#62 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:00 PM:

The only one I can call to mind comes from the book where I realized that just because I enjoy a writer's humor, that doesn't mean they can actually write drama.

It was Keith Laumer, but I don't recall which book for sure. It wasn't a Retief novel, and it was supposed to be serious.

I stopped being able to take it seriously when the bad guy's smile "dropped like a stripper's bra." Shortly after that I got confused by the timeline of the novel and in trying to figure it out realized that I was confused because it was crap.* It became one of my early experiences in refusing to finish something.

I have a very recent book at home that was a freebie from DragonCon, and while I'm reluctant to diss it specifically in public, it had some rather heavy handed "the anti-hero is absolutely perfect, don't you fear/want/want to be him"? My husband said it read like the character description on a MUSH.

*Society collapsed to the point where people forgot that food came from the ground, not cans, in less than eighty years from a late twentieth century level start? No freaking way.

#63 ::: kaigou ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:06 PM:

Not sure if this is what you mean, but: I've inadvertently read my share of lurid so-purple-it's-fuschia prose. Bleach works for most of it, except for one instance. I only recall that the story had plot no.4 slathered with every fantasy trope out there and saddled to boot with a cardboard, if breathlessly melodramatic, romance. Yet, pedestrian became classic in a single line:

...a lone rider separated himself from Winthrop's writhing thong, coming to a stop mere feet from Gareth...

I will never forget that visual. Believe me, I have tried.

#64 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:11 PM:

I give you this passage from The Betrothed by Sir Walter Scott, which impressed me enough that I blogged about it, leaving it available for me to copy and paste:

So saying, and overpowered by the long-repressed burst of filial sorrow, she sunk down on the banquette which ran along the inside of the embattled parapet of the platform, and murmuring to herself, 'He is gone for ever!' abandoned herself to the extremity of grief. One hand grasped unconsciously the weapon which she held, and served, at the same time, to prop her forehead, while the tears, by which she was now for the first time relieved, flowed in torrents from her eyes, and her sobs seemed so convulsive that Rose almost feared her heart was bursting. Her affection and sympathy dictated at once the kindest course which Eveline's condition permitted. Without attempting to control the torrent of grief in it's full current, she gently sat down beside the mourner, and possessing herself of the hand which had sunk motionless by her side, she alternately pressed it to her lips, her bosom, and her brow, now covered it with kisses, now bedewed it with tears, and amid these tokens of the most devoted and humble sumpathy, waited a more composed moment to offer her little stock of consolation in such deep silence and stillness, that, as the pale light fell upon the two beautiful young women, it seemed rather to show a group of statuary, the work of an eminent sculptor, than beings whose eyes still wept and whose hearts still throbbed.

Note the length of the final sentence in particular.

#65 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:27 PM:

Many moons ago, in the thick of my "Brent Spiner is teh Awesome!" phase, I bought the Spiner-read audiobook version of Philip Kerr's The Grid (or, if you were in the UK, Gridiron).

Mr. S was the only thing that made the work tolerable.

Besides a spate of alliterative names (Ray Richardson, Kay Killen, Helen Hussey), which is one of my pet peeves anyway, we were favored with a description of one of the characters removing a pair of panties from the person of his girlfriend:

"She straightened her feet and the little stealth bomber of black lace and silk was his."

I nearly drove off the road, I was laughing so hard.

Oh, and while searching inside the paperback edition to verify the stealth-bomber comment, I discovered that the first sentence of that edition spells the Los Angeles street La Cienega as La Cienagna.

Hmmm...I wonder where I put those cassettes?

#66 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:37 PM:

I confess that at one point in my life (stationed in Japan; the base library wasn't very good) I read a lot of Zane Grey. I tossed any and all copies of his books I once may have had, but boy were they bad.

From After Worlds Collide, theorizing about the origins of the cities found on the planet which hit Earth several chapters earlier:

"Beings of a high order of intelligence dwelt here. We have evidence that in science they had progressed beyond us -- unfortunately for themselves. Poor fellows!

Dramatically, Duquesne stopped.

When I was a teenager I thought those two books were good. Ouch.

#67 ::: Matthew Rotundo ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:37 PM:

"Gradually, night stumbled as if stunned and wandering aimlessly into an overcast day--limped though the wilderland of transition as though there were no knowing where the waste of darkness ended and the ashes of light began. The low clouds seemed full of grief--tense and uneasy with accumulated woe--and yet affectless, unable to rain, as if the air clenched itself too hard for tears. And through the dawn, Atiaran and Covenant moved heavily, unevenly, like pieces of a broken lament."

Stephen R. Donaldson, Lord Foul's Bane

Open to any page, and you'll find more where that came from. It's quite possibly the most inept published prose I have ever read. Dig that stunned, stumbling night. Marvel at those tense clouds. And check out those people moving like pieces of a broken lament. Hell, I didn't even know pieces of a broken lament could move.

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:51 PM:

I've been told that one of David Webber's later novels had a space battle where missiles were frustrated in their attempts at penetrating the other side's defenses. Sometimes a missile is just a missile. And I haven't read whichever book that was in. Then again, one of his novels had someone describe another person as being almost 1m70. Do real people ever think such thoughts?

#69 ::: Vef ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 04:56 PM:

I attempted Lord Foul's Bane a few years back and couldn't finish it; I guess it didn't get any better from where I gave up. Every mention of 'High Lord Kevin' sent me off into giggles anyway.

#70 ::: Nanni ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:00 PM:

I... don't know if poetry should count, but this thread /needs/ Robert Buchanan's "Camlan", which I have read in full. (Someone had to!)

The moon is cold on Camlan,
And on its thousands slain,
Save but the pillers pille the dead,
None trode that silent plain!
To help Sir Arthur at his need
But only two were found,
Of all that brave three hundred
Sat at his Table Round!


And this! Same source!

A priceless gift gave Merlin,
Won from his peerless make.
Within their bower of pleasure,
The Lady of the Lake.

Oh, and also this:

His fainting head they pillowed
That lady's lap upon;
"Now row ye, sisters, row ye
With speed for Avalon!"

I could go on.

#71 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:03 PM:

Lee @ 15 -- quite possibly my typo, quite possibly not (it's been a long time). The book definitely has aliens in it, only they're called witches. Witches are all female, and can only reproduce by being raped by human males: their vaginas nip off the offending organ at the moment of ejaculation. This happens once in the book, and a few hours later the witch vomits up what she has taken.

This is an internal structure not found in higher organisms on earth.

#72 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:03 PM:

Serge: Yes they do think such thougths. I have heard people say such words.

Not many, and stitled it was, but said it was too.

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:11 PM:

Terry @ 72... What do they do for a living that they would think such thoughts?

#74 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:21 PM:

Oh! How could I have forgotten Stephen Donaldson playing My Word-Hoard Surpasseth Yours!

A friend of mine and I used to make a contest of spotting the oh-so-casually-dropped tidbits, designed to send the abashed readers scurrying to the OED like so many roynish ur-viles...

#75 ::: Manon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:30 PM:

I actually own all the Covenant books.

And reread them frequently.

Boy, is my face incarnadine.

#76 ::: SisterCoyote ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:41 PM:

Tania @50 I had to know what the fuss was all about, and while I'd like to claim that my ability to read the first two (remember, I haven't actually started #3 yet) came from a stalwart stomach or from my love of really bad horror flicks (er. Except that I wouldn't insult my really bad horror flicks that way), the simple truth of the matter is that I was that bored.

Here's some Deathless Prose from Stephenie Myers' Breaking Dawn:

I heard the soft, wet sound of the scalpel across her stomach. More blood dripping to the floor.

The next sound jolted through me, unexpected, terrifying. Like metal being shredded apart. The sound brought back the fight in the clearing so many months ago, the tearing sound of the newborns being ripped apart. I glanced over to see Edward’s face pressed against the bulge. Vampire teeth--a surefire way to cut through vampire skin.

Yes, that would be cesarean by vampire teeth.

#77 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Serge 68: Isn't he the writer who had a commie revolutionary leader named Rob S. Pierre? And his heroine* gets in trouble for Doing The Right Thing, never for an actual bad act or even a simple mistake? And she's always vindicated and rewarded with another castle or a planet or something at the end?

I've read several of those books. I'm still not quite certain why I finished the first one.

Vef 69: Another writer whose popularity is a deep mystery to me. "The horses were almost prostrate upon their feet." Yes, I'm almost lying down while standing, too!

Manon 75: We'll forgive you if you started very young, and have therefore never noticed the abominable, thesaurus-filtered prose.

*Ubabe Znel Fhr Uneevatgba

#78 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:47 PM:

The trouble is that our standards have changed from those of out forefathers. What seems to out eyes to be pedestrian and prolix may have been, in its time, the prose of an educated and fluid writer.

After somewhat varied and troublous school days, young Dana entered Harvard University, where he took high rank in his classes and bid fair to make a reputation as a scholar. But at the beginning of his third year of college a severe attack of measles interrupted his course, and so affected his eyes as to preclude, for a time at least, all idea of study. The state of the family finances was not such as to permit of foreign travel in search of health. Accordingly, prompted by necessity and by a youthful love of adventure, he shipped as a common sailor in the brig, Pilgrim, bound for the California coast. His term of service lasted a trifle over two years--from August, 1834, to September, 1836. The undertaking was one calculated to kill or cure. Fortunately it had the latter effect; and, upon returning to his native place, physically vigorous but intellectually starved, he reentered Harvard and worked with such enthusiasm as to graduate in six months with honor.

Such is the style of the introduction to Two Years Befopre the Mast, which posesses the virtue of clearly outlining the tale which is to be told. A reader of its time would not need to be told that a voyage from Boston to California must, perforce, include a passage around Cape Horn, that dread, windswept, arm of the Southern Ocean, though it may be that, unfamiliar with the career of Hornblower and Aubrey, he lacked our literary appreciation of the privations of nautical life.

No matter. In the language of today's reader, "They're just fucking words."

#79 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Sara Douglass' Crucible trilogy has a lot of horrible, horrible gems, but the one that burned itself into my brain is this one:

"No doubt 'dear Robbie' taught Richard to do a great many things with his manly poker other than to piss with it."

Oh, and "Soon the entire court -- nay, the entire country! -- would be dancing to his depraved tune!"

Context makes it clear that the depraved tune is "It's Raining Men."

#80 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Then again, one of his novels had someone describe another person as being almost 1m70. Do real people ever think such thoughts?

Er... French people might?

Came across this atrocious mixed metaphor:

"It was a great ride for a lot of investors but eventually the music stopped and someone had to pay the piper," says Mr Kane. "What was supposed to be a liquid asset becomes a ball and chain around your neck when you owe more than the market value of the property."

Bernard Woolley would have a seizure...

#81 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:04 PM:

#80: "It's my poker, and I'll piss if I want to ..."

#82 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Agh. That should be #79. Has there been a posting in this thread too squamous and rugose to be displayable in written text?

#83 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:06 PM:

Tim@#22, that's a mild example of what the Language Logicians call WTF coordination (apparently formally called syllepsis, but this is a less interesting name so I scorn it).

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:09 PM:

Xopher @ 77... Honor Harrington, right? As for Rob S. Pierre... I've heard of him. And rolled my eyes when I did.

#85 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:15 PM:

Someone here recently posted the first sentence of a John Grisham novel that made me roll around on the floor for an exceptionally long time, and I think it deserves another mention here. Where was it...ahh, here it is: "The shots that fired the bullets that entered Pumpkin's head were heard by no less than eight people."

Also: I don't have it handy, and I know a lot of people here liked it (and now I'm almost scared to post this, because maybe Patrick edited it?...well, I'm saying it anyway, and if you did edit it, Patrick, I'm sorry, I love you, the rest of your career is sterling), but the sex scene about halfway through The Execution Channel is what finally convinced me that no, I didn't have to finish that book. That scene is ridiculous.

#86 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:16 PM:

Syd #65:

I think we would *all* treasure the outtakes from that recording session. How could anyone possibly read that out loud without totally collapsing in hysterical giggles?

#87 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:29 PM:

Xopher @ #77:

It seems appropriate that that rot13ed to "ubabe". (For those not exposed to the books: Yet Another female character who is devastatingly attractive but thinks she's ugly.)

#88 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:30 PM:

It is doubtless cheating to refer to the works of Dan Brown. But I am a notorious cheat, and shall so do.

"One mile away, the hulking albino named Silas limped through the front gate of the luxurious brownstone residence on Rue la Bruyere. The spiked cilice belt that he wore around his thigh cut into his flesh, and yet his soul sang with satisfaction of service to the Lord. Pain is good." I've often said so!

"The curator looked down and saw the bullet hole in his white linen shirt. It was framed by a small circle of blood a few inches below his breastbone. 'My stomach.' Almost cruelly, the bullet had missed his heart." Almost cruelly. But not quite. The appendix, now, that would have been cruel.

"Symbologists often remarked that France - a country renowned for machismo, womanizing, and diminutive insecure leaders like Napoleon and Pepin the Short - could not have chosen a more apt national emblem than a thousand-foot phallus." I personally can't think of France without thinking of Pepin the Short.

"Almost inconceivably, the gun into which she was now staring was clutched in the pale hand of an enormous albino with long white hair."

And the pièce de resistance:

"His captivating presence is punctuated by an unusually low, baritone speaking voice, which his female students describe as 'chocolate for the ears.'"

Let that metaphor seep into your ducts for a while. Chocolate for the ears. For a brief period in my early twenties, female students described me as "chocolate for the anus", but I've put all that behind me now.

#89 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:32 PM:

Nix 83: Thank you!! You've taught me a new word today! I love clever syllepses, but I never knew what they were called.

#90 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:47 PM:

Since no one seems to have mentioned it yet, there's always Of Saints and Shadows by Christopher Golden:


Mulkerrin loved the carnage, loved the absolute destruction of a human life. His passion for the massacre was unmatched by any other emotion he had experienced. In many ways, it made the fact of his celibacy a moot point.

Yes, he had a gift.

You know, sometimes I like to read schlock. But then, there's just some schlock that makes you want to scrub your eyes, your brain, and your hands, and tempts you to swear, Never again.

Unfortunately, the memory of "Carnage!" has proved indelible, and Amazon's Search Inside this Book feature is easy to use...

Maybe this'll be an act of exorcism?

#91 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 06:57 PM:

I don't really understand why people say that Donaldson writes like he's swallowed a thesaurus. He doesn't: it's the opposite. He only knows about a dozen words and deploys them relentlessly, inappropriate though they might be.

(I mean, that sentence alone had 'clench', 'woe', *and* 'lament': it only needed 'ruin' to have the full set.)

#92 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Bulwer-Lytton of course gave us the dark and stormy night, too.

The worst published prose I've ever encountered was the James Bond novels.

At one point in the Army I read a number of Mills and Boone romances. Surprisingly they were curate's eggs, parts of them were if not excellent at least perfectly tolerable prose.

My bete noir is "The Secret Life of Bees". My wife read it once, I've picked it up a couple of times, but the first paragraph is pure fingernails on chalkboard to me.

#93 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:25 PM:

I can't remember the title of the book. Something about a maze? The author was Brian Lumley. After struggling through the first two chapters, I flipped to a random page and read the first full sentence on the right-hand leaf:

"The giant scorpion moved like a larger version of its much tinier namesake."

Tossed the book against the far wall and never picked it up again.

#94 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Doug K. (92): curate's eggs

Not familiar with that phrase. Explain, please?

#95 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:40 PM:

Mary Aileen, in brief:

The young curate was visiting the bishop's palace for the first time. At breakfast, the bishop observes They've given you a bad egg.

The curate replies Oh no, my lord, parts of it are excellent.

(This appeared in Punch and if my memory serves was accounted the first comic cartoon, at least in that publication.)

#96 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:40 PM:

It comes from a British anecdote about the humble curate who is invited to breakfast with the Archbishop. He is served a soft-boiled egg which turns out to be rotten. As he is sitting there, trying to avoid giving offense, the Archbishop notices that he is not eating, and asks "Is your egg bad?" "Oh no, your holiness", replies the curate. "Parts of it are excellent."

#97 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:48 PM:

SeanH @ #88, you had to bring up Dan Brown. Here's Neddie Jingo's review of Brown's masterpiece (or best-selling piece of tripe, if you prefer). His conclusion?

Its wretchedness may entertain for short periods, but eventually the sheer, blistering clumsiness of it makes one pine for a horde of lawyers at one's disposal.

#98 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:55 PM:

Here's a quote I used when had its "weirdest book" thread:

“What’s that? What’s that?” Cleek’s voice flicked like the crack of a whip. “Good God! Dancing round in circles? His mouth open? His tongue hanging out? His fingers thrust into his nostrils? Was that what you said?”
“Yes. Why? Do you see anything promising in that fact, Cleek? It seems to excite you.”

That's from Cleek of Scotland Yard by Thomas Hanshew. Not only is this a real book, it's part of a whole series of stories about the great golden age detective Hamilton Cleek. I read these sometimes when I'm feeling down.

I've been exposed to a certain amount of bad prose via Doctor Who fandom. One of the worst-written books I own, on a sentence-by-sentence level, is The Colony of Lies by Colin Brake, which contains sentences like this: "He did not really know why he was running, the man in the skirt with the strangely accented English didn't seem particularly threatening, but the manner of his arrival had been so unusual (coupled with the fact that Billy Joe was somewhere he shouldn't be), that had been enough to set him off." Someone copyedited this. This book also describes something as "about the size of a pound of sausages." And then there's The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks, with lines like "His place in the Sontaran Hall of Fame was assured," and "I don't smoke--I don't even drink Coke. I'm a vegetarian."

I remember Wizard's First Rule made me laugh out loud a few times, although I'd have to dig the book out and search through it to quote anything. (I haven't read any of the rest of the series; I suspect the unintentional joke would get old.)

One book I've never read, but that I'd like to someday, is The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman by Arthur N. Scarm. The quotes I've seen--there are a few at that link, and a few more in a review at tantalizing.

#99 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 07:58 PM:

A screaming comes across the sky, which was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel like a patient etherized upon a table. The moon was a ghostly galleon hanging in the sky like a luminous rock. It was a dark and stormy night.

#100 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 08:00 PM:

Oh, well then, if stuff we've previously blogged is germane, allow me to present passages from a review by Jim Mateja, the Chicago Tribune's veteran automotive writer:

There are also power plugs front and rear, umbrella holder along the driver's floor, two gloveboxes, an optional center console (part of $2,080 preferred package) that can hide purse or computer or slide back 21 inches to serve the second row and YES Essentials stain/odor/static resistant seat fabric.[...]

Options include a $1,720 DVD entertainment system with pull-down screens for the second and third rows, Sirius satellite TV for $495 with live Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network (free for one year, $12.95 a month thereafter) and a $2,080 preferred equipment group with MyGig entertainment system that stores movies pictures and music plus MP3 compatibility, as well as such goodies as first and second row heated seats and power liftgate.

At the time, I wrote:

"Do not attempt to diagram this [latter] sentence, lest it drive you to madness.

"An automotive journalist must frequently write sentences that are long lists of features, gimmicks, gadgets, and options. A senior automotive journalist might be expected to have developed ways to do this smoothly. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case.

"I can only conclude that the Trib is economizing, in these difficult times, by rationing commas severely (especially Oxford commas), and has locked away its supply of semicolons someplace where the staff cannot get any."

#101 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 08:09 PM:

Can't believe the thread has gotten this far without mention of the Paladin of Shadows series. I can't possibly do it justice, so I'll just link to the original OH JOHN RINGO NO review, which can.

#102 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 08:09 PM:

Bill Higgins@100

Being an old hand at Internet humor, I carefully put my drink down before opening this thread. If not for that, your final sentence would surely have resulted in a born-again keyboard. Well done, sir.

#103 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 08:50 PM:

I am fortunate (errrr...) in that just today I read one worthy of inclusion.

"I saw her soul leave her body as she exhaled, and then she had no more needs, no more reason; she was released from her body, and, being released, she continued her journey elsewhere, high in the firmament where soul material gathers and plays out all the dreams and joys of which we temporal beings can barely conceive, all the things that are beyond our comprehension, but even so, are not beyond our attainment if we choose to attain them, and believe that we truly can."
-Garth Stein, "The Art of Racing In The Rain."

Not a terrible book, actually (unless you've had a dog die in the last year or so), except for its relentless insistence that "You manifest what is in front of you" and therefore it's your own fault if you get brain cancer and die.

#105 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:09 PM:

Damnit! I loaned out my copy of Shantaram.

#106 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:14 PM:

SamChevre @4: [..] A label on my peanut butter, noting that "this product contains peanuts". I certainly hope so.

Someone once enlightened me years ago that 'bacon bits' do not contain bacon (in fact, guaranteed not to contain bacon).

#107 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:17 PM:

Lee @101:

I want to - thank really isn't the right word, and condemn seems unfair, since you didn't make me click the link - um, recognize you for pointing out OH JOHN RINGO NO.


#108 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:40 PM:

Thanks to Scribd, I don't need to have my copy handy. Shantaram, is one of my favorite books. It's filled with interesting ideas and people, lots of wonderful writing, and also lots of awful, awful, terrible writing.

(Warning: adult content. Hilariously bad adult content.)

We kissed. Our lips made thoughts, somehow, without words: the kind of thoughts that feelings have. Our tongues writhed and slithered in their caves of pleasure. Tongues proclaiming what we were. Human. Lovers. Lips slid across the kiss, and I submerged her in love, surrendering and submerging in love myself.

I lifted her in my arms and carried her into the house, into the room that was perfumed with her. We shed our clothes on the tiled floor, and she led me to her bed. We lay close, but not touching. In the storm-lit darkness, the beaded sweat and raindrops on her arm were like so many glittering stars, and her skin was like a span of night sky.

I pressed my lips against the sky, and licked the stars into my mouth. She took my body into hers, and every movement was an incantation. Our breathing was like the whole world chanting prayers. Sweat ran in rivulets to ravines of pleasure. Every movement was a satin skin cascade. Within the velvet cloaks of tenderness, our backs convulsed in quivering heat, pushing heat, pushing muscles to complete what minds begin and bodies always win. I was hers. She was mine. My body was her chariot, and she drove it into the sun. Her body was my river, and I became the sea. And the wailing moan that drove our lips together, at the end, was the world of hope and sorrow that ecstasy wrings from lovers as it floods their souls with bliss.

The still and softly breathing silence that suffused and submerged us, afterward, was emptied of need, and want, and hunger, and pain, and everything else except the pure, ineffable exquisiteness of love.

"Oh, shit!"


"Oh, Jesus! Look at the time!"

--Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

#109 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:45 PM:

Rob Rusik: Hormel bacon bit do contain bacon, it's not really recognizable as such (tasting more of liquid smoke and parrafin than meat), but it did start its life as a pig.

#110 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:45 PM:

Man. I clicked that John Ringo link too, and I will never sneer at the Mack Bolan "The Executioner"* books again. By comparison, they're high art.

*For good reason, these appear by the gazillion at my local used book purveyor. Nobody would want to keep them for re-reading purposes.

#111 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:49 PM:

Natalie Goldberg's Banana Rose is a purple prose (and purple plot if there is such a thing) classic. My brother and SIL and I had a great evening reading portions aloud and laughing ourselves silly, after a coworker of my SIL's pressed it upon her. Unfortunately I can't find any quotes on line, but the publisher's description is, itself, a peach:

Banana Rose is the story of Nell Schwartz, a Brooklyn-born Jewish girl who moves to the Taos of communes and sweet cedar smoke, transforms herself into Banana Rose (because she's "bananas"), falls in love with a horn player named Gauguin, and believes they can stop time if they just love hard enough. It's also about Nell and Anna, a strange-eyed writer as lonely as the Nebraska farm where she grew up, whose kisses taste like raspberries and who teaches Nell what it means to be an artist. But most of all, Banana Rose is about Nell's struggle with her own wild heart, with the demands of canvas and paint, with her family and faith, and with her irrepressible longing for home.

#112 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 09:53 PM:

Conan Doyle wrote some prose that is more than a bit toward the 'say what?' side of the spectrum. 'The Musgrave Ritual' is the one that comes immediately to mind, with Rachel the tempestuous Welsh housemaid.

#113 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Lee @#101: OMG, priceless.

#114 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 10:26 PM:

I refuse to go looking through boxes for the actual book, so I had to dig this one up from back when I still followed rec.arts.sf.written. I give you Alan Dean Foster, Diuturnity's Dawn:

Botha assured him that upon contact with the materials to be spread by the multiple explosions, foams and liquids intended for combating out-of-control blazes would themselves be turned into a substance suitable for supplementing the very conflagrations they were designed to quench. By the time a sufficiency of nonreactive chemical retardants and suppressants could be brought from Aurora City, much of the glorious but debauched fair should be reduced to wind-blown cinders among which would drift the carbonized components of as many baked bugs as possible.

I think the "baked bugs" at the end sets the rest off beautifully.


#115 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 11:03 PM:

I'm surprised Scraps hasn't come in here yet with some choice quotes from reviews. Until he does, here's one he pointed out a while back, from their review of Kristin Hersh's last album: "Her first solo offering in nearly four years, Learn to Sing Like a Star is nigh on worthy of rejoicing over."

#116 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 11:32 PM:

ajay @80, Serge @68:
1m70 is about 5 1/2 feet, which I can easily imagine someone saying. I smell a botched autoconversion of units.

#117 ::: Ouish ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2008, 11:49 PM:

Deep under the cavern city of Ra-Mu, within the diamantine inner rocks that hold all the upper rock of the upper world in its place, he built a titanic machine of more power than men had ever put in one place before. What it was is this: a thing that affected the tiny magnetic charges that are the binding of all matter's molecules, that do flow about the surface of atoms as water does about earth -- but that in this flow do bind them all into one -- as mud is bound by water, but separates when dry and becomes dust. So it is with all matter to be held by this fluid stuff into a hard thing that we call rock, or steel, or whatever it may be. This is the powerful magnetic substance that is driven out when iron is heated, and that flows back in when the iron is plunged into cold water. They give temper and hardness by binding the parts of matter more firmly together in the iron. T-ions is what the scientists of Ra-Mu called them, and they are things that can be driven and coerced in many ways. Matter does strange things when these binding magnets are removed, just as water boils and becomes steam when the heat repellence drives out the binding of the T-ions.

Just as water can become loose and agile and fly off like gas into the air, so can rock become loose and agile under certain rays that drive out this universal binding stuff of matter, and fly off into the air as smoke, or flow along like water. And Salund Mar had found in an old book in the belongings of the murdered Elder technician, Konro Loral, the drawings for a machine to make borings into rock, by the use of a ray of power that would make the rock run like water or disappear entirely as a gas, and leave a tunnel all bored through the rock without labor. And this was a great improvement over the method used now of boring tunnels with a dis-ray, for "dis" was an unpleasant stuff to be around, and gave off lava and fumes and was dangerous to all who handled it in tunnel boring.


So the thin, small, fast ships of Kui flashed impudently into the under-parts of the vast fleet of Enn, all their rays blazing, and many a winged warrior, and many an ancient bearded and tremendous Elder of Hevi Enn, who had graduated from a dozen planets to reach that famed haven of immortality, died at his vision plate before they fired a shot. And the truth of Saland's audacity was seen; for the people of Hevi Enn and the League of the Rosy Cross had removed the causes of war long ago from their life, thus little improvement had been made in the art of war for centuries, and Salund knew as much about it as they did, for neither knew much. Or so Salund thought during the first few minutes of war which were entirely his way; for one of the mighty warships came blazing down to the globe below by some lucky chance shot, and several veered from their course.

But the truth was otherwise than Salund at first thought. For the might of their strength had given the leader of the fleet from Hevi Enn the idea that even a madman would know better than to fire upon them, and expected only some kind of bluff when the tiny ships took off from the round globe far below. The mercy that was part of their hearts made them hold their fire for that split second, which gave the tiny ships with their powerful rays their chance to get in a blow. And that was the end of the space navy of Ra-Mu, for with their minds enraged at the sudden attack without parley or other usual formality, such as prevailed among the cultured men of the League, the fleet of mighty war cruisers flashed now into intricate unpredictable maneuvers so that no poor faltering human eye from the men who manned Salund's ships, against their better judgement and on pain of death, could follow, and the great rays lashed out simultaneously and down upon their poor heads came all the Hell-fire and God-anger of the power of Hevi Enn. And now a whirlpool of destruction overtook them, and the thousand and more ships, long slim needles of seeming deadly destruction that they were, were within minutes but floating, blazing hulks, riddled fore and aft, and from those blasted wrecks men cried to the Godmen of Hevi Enn to release them, or to kill them before the fire burned them alive, but the anger they had aroused left no room for mercy in the great hearts of the Elder warriors.

It was long after when all the wounds of all the Elder men had been attended before the mercy ships of the Rosy Cross flitted from wrecked hulk to burning hull to pick up the survivors and the wounded. For these were rebels, and the hearts of the Elder men had little care for men too stupid to realize that their rule was one of goodness, mercy and wisdom, and not a thing to be rebelled against by any but fools who know not where their best interest lies.


Under the great weight of the far off war-gear trundling slowly toward him Salund shot the terrible rock melting ray, and the floor crashed through under their weight and dropped them, shouting with death into the gulfs he had bored beneath them. The pillar of rock about which the machine revolved became the pillar of rock upholding the whole rock-warren city of Ra-Mu, for Salund circled and circled. seeking with his vast power-ray each last fleeing enemy tank and troop carrier and tool of war, and boring under it a vast shaft of nothingness into which it fell. And so it was that single-handed Salund Mar set at naught all the war gear and cunning of a nation of men far superior to himself, but it was with the invention of one of their number he did this deed. For this rock-melting ray was a thing that Konro Loral had worked on by himself for years. Even so, few knew of it, so that when Salund Mar unleashed its vast rock dissolving power upon them, it was a complete surprise.

Salund sat upon the seat of the vast machine for a long time, entranced with the awful power of it, as it revolved about its great rock pillar that held the weight of rock from which it had burned away all the support. Steadily the terrible rock dissolver took away all the under-rock of the land of Kui, and a vast gulf was formed under the whole land. The eyes of Salund were filled with the madness of power as he watched its terrible work. Of the armies that had entered the ways leading to the city of Ra-Mu there was left no man alive, and nothing remained of all those great ways and living places but one vast open gulf of darkness, for Salund had allowed the great ray to dissolve it all into the grey drifting smoke that filled the gulf with choking vapor of rock.

--Richard S. Shaver, "The City of Kui" (Amazing Stories, December '46)

Guess what happens next. The true story behind the legend of the lost continent.

#118 ::: msanon ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:30 AM:


Don't worry, with enough perseverance and some fine hounds, you'll be able to hunt down that plot and kill it.

#119 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:44 AM:

geekosaur @ 116... True. Still, saying that someone is 1m70 tall does not reveal anything, compared to describing this person as taller (or shorter) than average for a man (or for a woman).

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:45 AM:

geekosaur @ 116... True. Still, saying that someone is 1m70 tall does not reveal anything about that future civilization, compared to describing this person as taller (or shorter) than average for a man (or for a woman).

#121 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:46 AM:

joanne @ 86:

If such an outtakes collection existed, I would buy it in a heartbeat. As it is, I content myself with fancying the occasion, barely repressed chuckle made it onto the completed tapes... :)

And many thanks to all for their contributions in this thread. One day, when I'm feeling very brave, I'll have to look up some of these fine examples of the stuff literary nightmares are made of.

Oh, dear. I think the purple is contagious...

#122 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:00 AM:

That John Ringo book, ummm... wow. It sounds right up there with Usenet-grade "erotica". I'm amazed he published it. Not so much at the publisher - I can see it selling, all right - but that Ringo apparently doesn't care what the readers may be wondering about him after this. The obsessions leering through it kind of remind me of Autobiography of a Space Tyrant, which thankfully I don't have a copy of.

I'm also half-wanting to find a copy just to see if it lives up to the review.

#123 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:09 AM:

"Suddenly the pouting sex kitten gave way to Diana the Huntress."

From Newt Gingrich's novel 1945.

#124 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:20 AM:

My favorite Harry Harrison line doesn't count, sadly, because Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers is a deliberate (and hysterical) parody of the "Doc" Smith clunker style of writing:

"Come on Jerry, the accumulators are crackling with barely restrained power", shouted Chuck.

A little more from the following paragraph, to whet your appetite:

It just so happened that these two young men, still students at a secluded State College in drowsy Pleasantville, had two of the keenest minds in the country, perhaps the entire world. Tall dark-haired, broad-shoulded Jerry Courteney, handsome as a Greek god with a whimsical smile forever playing around his lips, would never be taken for the topnotch engineer that he was, the man who walked off with every medal and every award in every field that he chose to study. He looked less like a scholar than the rugged frontiersman he really was, for he had been born up on the far northern border of our country, on a homesteaded ranch in Alaska north of the Arctic Circle. In that rough environment he had grown up with his four strapping brothers and strapping father who strapped them all quite well when they got out of line, as high-spirited boys ever will. The others were all still there, hewing a precarious living from the virgin wilderness, but much as he loved the icy silences and whispering trees, Jerry had been bitten by the bug of knoledge, just as his arms were bitten by the ravenous mosquitoes so his skin was tougher than shoe leather, and had made his way from school to school, scholarship to scholarship until he reached State College.

... Really, it's hard to know where to stop. The whole book brilliantly hits that same certain tone-deaf pitch. It's an evil master-work.

#125 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:34 AM:

Ethan @ #85: Someone here recently posted the first sentence of a John Grisham novel that made me roll around on the floor for an exceptionally long time, and I think it deserves another mention here. Where was it...ahh, here it is: "The shots that fired the bullets that entered Pumpkin's head were heard by no less than eight people."

Damn! You beat me to it! I love pulling that one out at every opportune moment. The story behind my discovery of that opening line is this: A friend, who also likes to write, had recommended Grisham's King of Torts to me, saying, "The writing is smooth. Real smooth." So, the next time I found myself in a bookstore, I picked up a copy of the book, read the opening paragraph, and immediately put it back on the shelf. Here's the full opening paragraph (culled from Amazon's "OnlineReader" feature, as I'm not about to litter my bookshelves with something like this):

The shots that fired the bullets that entered Pumpkin's head were heard by no less than eight people. Three instinctively closed their windows, checked their door locks, and withdrew to the safety, or at least the seclusion, of their small apartments. Two others, each with experience in such matters, ran from the vicinity as fast if not faster than the gunman himself. Another, the neighborhood recycling fanatic, was digging through some garbage in search of aluminum cans when he heard the sharp sounds of the daily skirmish, very nearby. He jumped behind a pile of cardboard boxes until the shelling stopped, then eased into the alley where he saw what was left of Pumpkin.

Poor Pumpkin. Can you imagine being shot in the head several times each day, day after day after day?

#126 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:40 AM:

RiceVermicelli @ 55: that's the Keats sonnet Abi mentioned.

#127 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:45 AM:

I am lucky enough to have a copy of Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman's Ghastly Beyond Belief, which contains abundant examples of awful prose.

Peggy thought longingly of the fat sexual slug that lay curled in a beautiful bird's-nest in the crook of his thigh.
Fiona Richmond, Galactic Girl.

'The important thing,' he said, 'is to lay the Brains by the heels.'
Sydney J Bounds, The Robot Brains

They were featureless and telic, like lambent gangrene. They looked horribly like children.
Stephen Donaldson, The Wounded Land

#128 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:58 AM:

Wait, Richard Shaver?!?

He was the guy behind the "secret caverns leading to the world inside the Earth" theories, with the good and bad alien flying ships coming out of them. He was a major contributor to the pulp narratives which created the way for people to start perceiving "UFOs" in the '50s and '60s.

#129 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:10 AM:

Speaking of overwrought prose, how about a writer who HPL viewed as his greater in such things? How about a little Clark Ashton Smith? I luv him, but he's not to modern tastes. Here's a fine paragraph as a sample:

Namirrha rose to greet them, observing a solemn and funereal courtesy. His eyes were bleak and cold as distant stars in the hollows wrought by strange fearful vigils. His lips were as a pale-red seal on a shut parchment of doom. His beard flowed stiffly in black-anointed banded locks across the bosom of his vermilion robe, like a mass of straight black serpents. Zotulla felt the blood pause and thicken about his heart, as if congealing into ice. And Obexah, peering beneath lowered lids was abashed and frightened by the visible horror that infested this man and hung on him even as royalty upon a king. But amid her fear, she found room to wonder what manner of man he was in his intercourse with women.

... The whole thing requires considerable deconstruction, but it's the last sentence which really makes it.

#130 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:26 AM:

"When Baldacci is on fire, no one can touch him."

wow, that's sort of a fucked up super power. What happens if he's on fire and he touches you?

#131 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:30 AM:

actually I was thinking about writing something with a game of piss poker in it.

#132 ::: Sarah E ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:43 AM:

Julie at 54: I have most of 'Ode on a Mammoth Cheese' memorized. My favorite stanza is the last:

If thou wert suspended from balloon,
You'd cast a shade, even at noon.
Folks would think you were the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.

I love the idea of apocalyptic cheese.

#133 ::: Doubter ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 03:20 AM:

The "1918" chapter of "Triplanetary" -- the first novel in E E "Doc" Smith's fascistic "Lensmen" series.

It's too long to post, but you can read it at Gutenburg:

It's either really, really, really bad writing, or a bravura experiment in punctuation -- you decide!

#134 ::: Chris Sullins ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 03:28 AM:

I'm afraid there's not much contrast between subject and style, but here's the tagline from The Nest, by Gregory A. Douglas:

It was an ordinary Cape Cod town — until the huge mutants began to leave their nest...

And here's an excerpt. The entire book is just as bad:

The vermin were squealing with agony as they sprang into the night air. Their writhing bodies were as bizarre as their gyrations and screaking; they were covered not with fur, but with what seemed to be shells, scintillating in the moonlight. The pinpricks of fire on their rodent bodies flashed crazily over the dump with a metallic sheen until there was a quick change to the crimson of blood. The rats were cloaked in sequins of death; a nightmare scene out of an animal hell.

#135 ::: Solri ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 03:46 AM:

From the Bard himself:

"For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo"

#136 ::: Solri ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 04:04 AM:

The first paragraph of Lewis Perdue's Daughter of God (a Da Vinci Code-type theological thriller which is very enjoyable if you ignore the style):

Zoe Ridgeway smelled it, felt it the instant she crossed the threshold of the imposing Swiss mansion. She tried to convince herself that she was imagining things. But even the long-lost Rembrandt hanging casually in the entryway couldn't distract her thoughts from the conviction that death lived here.

"Hey Rembrandt, what you doing here?"
"Just hanging, y'know."

#137 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 04:54 AM:

Having followed the "OH, JOHN RINGO, NO!" link, and seen John Ringo's response, I think we have to accept that the guy deserves some credit for knowing what he's doing.

This "Die Hard" with lots of explicit sex.

Since some of them have escaped as Baen promotional eBooks, I have read the stuff, and I wouldn't pick it out as dreadful prose. And the fact that people buy the stuff has a lot to say about a certain section of the US population.

#138 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 05:35 AM:

ethan@85: Sorry,'re right, that was one of Patrick's. I had a similar experience last weekend at the Farthing Party: I was on the Awards panel and made a snarky comment about Robert J. Sawyer's Rollback, not realizing that it had been edited by David Hartwell -- who was also on the panel, sitting one seat over.

#139 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 05:44 AM:

Okay, bad prose. As many of you may remember, I've been reading Homer. The Perseus Project site has a translation of Homer dating from the year 1920, done by one A.T. prose. In deliberately and horribly archaic prose. (He has one great advantage from their point of view: He's out of copyright.) I've been reading along in his translation, as a pony, and I regularly come across stuff which makes me long for a time machine, that I might travel back and slap him upside the head with a wet fish. Here's an excerpt from Book 5:

And Sarpedon moreover sternly chid goodly Hector, saying: "Hector, where now is the strength gone that aforetime thou hadst? Thou saidst forsooth that without hosts and allies thou wouldst hold the city alone with the aid of thy sisters' husbands and thy brothers; howbeit of these can I now neither behold nor mark anyone, but they cower as dogs about a lion; and it is we that fight, we that are but allies among you. For I that am but an ally am come from very far; afar is Lycia by eddying Xanthus, where I left my dear wife and infant son, and my great wealth the which every man that is in lack coveteth. Yet even so urge I on the Lycians, and am fain myself to fight my man, though here is naught of mine such as the Achaeans might bear away or drive; whereas thou standest and dost not even urge thy hosts to abide and defend their wives. Beware lest thou and they, as if caught in the meshes of all-ensnaring flax, become a prey and spoil unto your foemen; and they shall anon lay waste your well-peopled city.
That one is not quite chosen at random; I'll admit I deliberately sought out a passage containing the word "forsooth". But it's all like that. How he could stand to turn Homer's energetic narrative into that limp-wristed stuff, I don't know.
#140 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 05:52 AM:

Okay, here's another one. Jerome K. Jerome, best known for Three Men in a Boat, had a collection of pieces called The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. It's a weird mixture from our perspective: part snarky cynicism that wouldn't be out of place on Comedy Central today, part weird Victorian sentimentality.

He has one unforgettable flight into Victorian sentiment in a passage from "On Furnished Apartments" in which he contemplates an old faded fireplace screen that his mother had made:

Ah, old screen, what a gorgeous personage you must have been in your young days, when the tulips and roses and lilies (all growing from one stem) were fresh in their glistening sheen! Many a summer and winter have come and gone since then, my friend, and you have played with the dancing firelight until you have grown sad and gray. Your brilliant colors are fast fading now, and the envious moths have gnawed your silken threads. You are withering away like the dead hands that wove you. Do you ever think of those dead hands? You seem so grave and thoughtful sometimes that I almost think you do. Come, you and I and the deep-glowing embers, let us talk together. Tell me in your silent language what you remember of those young days, when you lay on my little mother's lap and her girlish fingers played with your rainbow tresses. Was there never a lad near sometimes--never a lad who would seize one of those little hands to smother it with kisses, and who would persist in holding it, thereby sadly interfering with the progress of your making? Was not your frail existence often put in jeopardy by this same clumsy, headstrong lad, who would toss you disrespectfully aside that he--not satisfied with one--might hold both hands and gaze up into the loved eyes?
...If you think that's silly enough, well, all I can say is that I thought quoting the whole thing would take up too much space. He's just getting started.

#141 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 06:26 AM:

Dave Bell@137: And the fact that people buy the stuff has a lot to say about a certain section of the US population.

If this was a political thread, I'd say it felt like a genuine glimpse into the Rpblcn collective unconscious. But that's better than the Beatles slashfic I was expecting.

#142 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 06:29 AM:

Dave Bell @78 The trouble is that our standards have changed from those of out forefathers. What seems to out eyes to be pedestrian and prolix may have been, in its time, the prose of an educated and fluid writer.

This is very true indeed. However, feeling the need to defend my example, Scott was writing in a faux-medieval style in 1825 rather than writing in the usual style for 1825 prose. I note that Wikipedia quotes this review from his biographer:

"The Betrothed was clearly composed in a somnolent if not stertorous condition, and would score high marks in a competition to decide which was the dreariest and stupidest book ever produced by a writer of genius."

Actually that's a pretty good bit of writing there. Sorry.

#143 ::: Wakboth ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 07:02 AM:

Doubter at #133: Smith's prose is starkly staggering at times, coruscating as it is with a plethora of adverbiage, but I wouldn't call his Lensman books fascistic at all...

#144 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 08:09 AM:

From a book that seemed to get quite a bit of praise from some quarters: _Dante's Equation_ by Jane Jensen.

"...his back pressed hard against the cabin of the rescue ship as sea spray slapped him on the cheeks like an outraged Englishman..."

I think that's the first time that a book I had seriously intended to read lost me on the very first page.

#145 ::: Tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 08:38 AM:

Jerry had been bitten by the bug of knoledge.
An earig, perhaps.

#146 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 09:15 AM:

G D Townshende #125: I'm glad to see that the book continues as brilliantly as it opens.

Clifton Royston #129: Speaking of Lovecraft, who I generally think transcends the kind of writing we're talking about here, I just came across this in "Herbert West - Reanimator", which isn't so much bad writing as really really weird: "...West, though a calm, blond, blue-eyed scientific automaton in most respects, often confessed to a shuddering sensation of stealthy pursuit."

David Goldfarb #138: I knew it. As for your comment, at least you didn't know you were being embarrassing. I have no excuse. Sorry, Patrick.

Steve Taylor #144: That was confusing for a moment, because I thought you were talking about Jane Jensen, who played Juliet in Tromeo and Juliet, and whose "Luv Song" is one of my favorite novelty songs of all time. I highly recommend listening to it here.

#147 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:23 AM:

I'm impressed that nobody has yet mentioned Michael Avallone, author of such passages as "The whites of his eyes came up in their sockets like moons over an oasis lined with palm trees" and "The footsteps didn't walk right in. They stopped outside the door and knocked."

#148 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:48 AM:

abi: You should be ashamed of yourself. McGonagall? That's like bringing a freaking howitzer to a knife fight. The only response would be to pull out Ros, which when it comes to discussions of bad poetry and writing is the equivalent of Godwin's Law. I will be a good boy and leave my copy of The World's Worst Writers on the shelf and thereby rise above temptation...

I have this sick and possibly Calvanistic urge to finish any book that I start, probably because I know that the author spent an appreciable chunk of their life working on it--I also sit through movie credits. (I'm currently slogging my way through a copy of Blur that someone gave me for a birthday or Christmas.) This means I've abandoned fewer books then I have fingers and toes and feel bad about every one of them. Hell, I even finished Battlefield Earth!

My bete noir is the book with a fact cleverly designed to snap my willing suspension of disbelief like a rotted chicken bone. That's why I gave up on the series about the dwarf criminologist--they were written well enough but the two I tried had howlers that made me want to throw them across the room--two of fact in the first book, and a key plot element in a later book. Can I suggest a list of suspension-breakers in the future? I don't want to break up the flow here...

#149 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 11:07 AM:

Terry Goodkind: not any specific paragraphs, but there's an entire book (probably more) in which Richard the Right says, "Don't you see?" at least once during just about every conversation. The books make me want to write fanfic just to prove him wrong once in a while.

#150 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 11:16 AM:

ethan, #85:

Also: I don't have it handy, and I know a lot of people here liked it (and now I'm almost scared to post this, because maybe Patrick edited it?...well, I'm saying it anyway, and if you did edit it, Patrick, I'm sorry, I love you, the rest of your career is sterling), but the sex scene about halfway through The Execution Channel is what finally convinced me that no, I didn't have to finish that book. That scene is ridiculous."
What's annoying about this comment, Ethan, isn't that you dislike a scene from a book I worked on (I would be amazed if I know a single person who likes every scene in every book I've ever worked on), or that you say so (if I got worked up every time someone I like disliked a book I edited or published, I'd burn out in a week). It's not even the don't-hit-me, I'm-so-daring, did-I-mention-don't-hit-me routine, or your subsequent back-and-forth with David Goldfarb about how terrifying it is to say the wrong thing around such fearsome individuals as David Hartwell or me.

What's annoying is that amidst all the noise you make on the subject, in a thread in which people are talking about what they consider to be bad prose by citing examples, you didn't say a single word about why you think the scene in question is bad. Or quote a single line. All you tell us is that the scene is "ridiculous." That's a drive-by: a declaration of superiority. Your instincts were right: you should be embarrassed--for contributing so stingily to the conversation.

For what it's worth, I just now re-read the scene, and I think it's fine. Two people under conditions of extreme stress have awkward sex. It doesn't seem to me overwritten, and it seems to do a pretty good job of observing small details and avoiding the cliches of porn. But since you don't actually tell us what you think is wrong with the scene, you put anyone who wants to defend it in the position of having to guess. Worse, in having to guess in the face of someone who's already announced that the scene in question is "ridiculous."

#151 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 11:23 AM:

OK, since sex scenes are banned, here's the wonderfully-named Volumnia:

I pray you, daughter, sing, or express yourself in a more comfortable sort; if my son were my husband, I should freelier rejoice in that absence wherein he won honour than in the embracements of his bed where he would show most love. When yet he was but tender-bodied, and the only son of my womb; when youth with comeliness pluck'd all gaze his way; when, for a day of kings' entreaties, a mother should not sell him an hour from her beholding; I -- considering how honour would become such a person; that it was no better than picture-like to hang by th' wall if renown made it not stir; -- was pleased to let him seek danger where he was to find fame. To a cruel war I sent him; from whence he returned his brows bound with oak. I tell thee, daughter, I sprang not more in joy at first hearing he was a man-child than now in first seeing he had proved himself a man.
Yes, it's The Bard himself - Coriolanus, act 1, scene 3. It does make sense, but so clumsily, especially that long sentence with subordinate clauses rabbiting everywhere. This from the man who could write Twelfth Night and Macbeth.

#152 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 11:24 AM:

Patrick @ 150... such fearsome individuals as David Hartwell or me

...especially when David Hartwell wears those jackets of his to the Hugos.

#153 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 11:45 AM:

Patrick @150:

Now, why would someone only hesitantly brush by criticizing something you've edited, rather than diving in, quoting it, and dissecting it with vigor? Why on earth would they come off as afraid of you?

We're trying to have a fun, non-argumentative conversation here. How about something like, "What was it that you didn't like about it? Can you quote some elements that particularly bugged you?"

Dial it down a little, will you? This is the relief thread.

#154 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:12 PM:

*reads abi's comment 153, changes post politely upbraiding someone (not ethan or Patrick) into a gently informative private email*

#155 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:19 PM:

Thank you, Abi.

#156 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:27 PM:

"I've never caught a jewel thief before. It's stimulating. It's like... It's like..."
"Like sitting in a hot tub?"
"I called the police from your room and told them who you are and everything you've been doing tonight."
"Everything? The boys must have really enjoyed that at headquarters!"

No, I don't consider this exchange between Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Hitchcock's To Catch A Thief to be cheesy. Au contraire. The cheesy stuff that's been mentionned here is funny, but because it is cheesy. The above is funny because, well, it is funny, especially when Cary Grant is involved.

#157 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:27 PM:

Tom Whitmore @15: More than 10 years since my last reading, I still remember (approximately) the opening line of [HC Turk's] Black Body: "Little did I know as I slipped in the birth slime between my mothers' legs that of the three women watching, two were witches and one was a hag." The only possible excuse for the publication of the rest is that someone thought it was a pastiche of bad Victorian pornography. And it was published by a major hardcover art publisher (Villard).

Ye gods, I remember reading that book. And it had such a beautiful cover by Kinuko Craft, too-- the small images at Amazon don't do justice to the Klimt-like depth of jeweled colors.

#158 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:40 PM:

The worst published sentence I've ever read was in a newspaper story, so it technically doesn't count, but it's burned into my brain so I'll make you all suffer with me.

"The potato, which adult Irish men ate up to forty of each day, was blighted."

It was an article on some research done by my history professor in 1996. I still wonder if he kept the article or burned it in horror.

#159 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:45 PM:

"For a time we tried to contact them by radio but no response. Then they attacked a town, a small town I'll admit, but nevertheless a town of people, people who died."

(An army officer in Plan 9 from Outer Space)

#160 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:49 PM:

Sometimes it's not the writer's fault. Sometimes they write something perfectly reasonable that turns into a horror later. My favorite example is

Death is here, and Death is there,
Death is busy everywhere!
When Percy Shelley wrote that, he didn't know that Dr. Seuss would ingrain that lilting rhythm into the brains of an entire generation, who would immediately think "One Death Two Death Red Death Blue Death," and throw the Collected Poems of Percy Shelley across the room.

But perhaps I speak only for myself.

#161 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:50 PM:


Dial it down a little, will you? This is the relief thread.
That was the restrained version.

Patrick went all the way back to the original unedited manuscript version of the scene to check it out, then worked his way forward.

What he asked was to know what about it hadn't worked.

You know how easy it is to headtrip writers and copyeditors by telling them they did something wrong? It works on editors, too.

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:57 PM:

May I humbly, very humbly, suggest that current subject of animosity be dropped?

#163 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 12:58 PM:

Also: Ken MacLeod reads Making Light. Have to figure he'd also be interested in knowing why and how the scene didn't work for Ethan.

#164 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:00 PM:

Serge: local weather readings suggest it's not going to dissipate on its own.

#165 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:09 PM:

Teresa @ 164... I'm sorry to hear that, and it's a damned shame. I'll just stay out of the way, as I have no wish to make things worse.

#166 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:11 PM:

Meanwhile: The opening sentence of Black Body isn't an aberration. The whole book is like that.

I once spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how it could have gotten published. I ended up with an elaborate scenario involving one editor buying the book from a proposal, then leaving to take another job. The book gets handed to another editor, who's snowed under by the need to catch up on all the orphaned books. When the ms. of Black Body is delivered, the editor makes a stab at reading it, is baffled, figures it's not his or her kind of book, and sends it to production as is.

As I explained to Ben Yalow after Black Body came out, it's possible that the only people who actually read it prior to publication were the copyeditor, the proofreader, Don D'Ammassa, and the reviewer at Kirkus.

Don D'Ammassa inexplicably liked it. The reviewer at Kirkus was vengeful.

#168 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 01:44 PM:

This thread reminds me: I was in the local Barnes & Noble the other day and there was a book in the sf/fantasy section that was much thinner than you'd expect for something that was trade paperback size. I pulled it out to look it over and discovered the publisher was Publish America. Considering the clips that have posted from PA books over the years, I was afraid to open it in the store because I might be giving false encouragement to a lurking victim, er, um, author and have been hanging out in mysteries and essays until it goes away.

#169 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:02 PM:

Tom@15: I can't resist. As the trailer may be the best part of the movie, I excerpt the opening lines and a later page:

He didn't know whether he had been there days or hours or weeks. He couldn't remember a time whtn there hadn't been stabbing, searing pain of some kind . . . when there hadn't been flashing lights or screeching, roaring noises . . . when there hadn't been a voice, a grim, sharp, metallic, repetitive voice, raspong on and on and on at him. Keflers' voice saying: "Talk. Tell us. Talk. Tell us," until he had got to the point where he thought they were the only words in the language. [...]

Still, tough as he was, even he couldn't stand much more of Kefler's treatment. It would have killed nine men out of ten already [...] Darn Kefler, blast Kefler! Darn his glittering eyes and his smug laugh and the power that he had temporarily gained.

Pel Torro (Lionel Fanthorpe), Frozen Planet, 1967.

#170 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:05 PM:

Worst writing I van remember is the backcover blurb for Margaret St. Clair's Sign of the Labrys, which really didn't deserve it:

Women are writing science-fiction!
Women are closer to the primitive than men. They are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They posses a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel.

Such a woman is Margaret St. Clair, author of this novel. Such a novel is this, SIGN OF THE LABRYS, the story of a doomed world of the future, saved by recourse to ageless, immemorial rites...

#171 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:44 PM:

Wow, I remember that blurb. She really didn't deserve that.

Margaret St. Clair is a fascinating and neglected writer. The Shadow People is a minor masterpiece of fantasy, written 20 years before urban fantasy came into vogue. (Sign of the Labrys is also good, but not as good IMHO.) Unfortunately my ex got to keep all the St. Clair books.

#173 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Hey, ethan -- if it intimidates you to think about telling Patrick what you didn't like about that sex scene, then tell me about it. Because now you've got me curious.

#174 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 02:58 PM:

Bruce: Nobody told you? There was a whole thread about it here! (Well, it started about that. Then it somehow turned into a game of just how lame can you make a good book sound in a blurb/summary, and can you identify the book by the notional blurb.)

#175 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 03:02 PM:

That was a good game. We should play it again. I remember Mad doing a piece where they made family movies look like porn from the posters, and vice versa. My personal favorite: "She was bare! She was brazen! She was...Born Free!"

#176 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 03:46 PM:

Tykewriter @ #145: (re my #124) Blame the ML copy editor - that would be me. The book has it correct.

#177 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 05:29 PM:

Clifton @#124, look out: if you can quote _Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers_ then Dave Langford can win by posting all of _Earthdoom!_ in response. I'm not sure anyone would survive that.

Brenda @#169, "Darn your glittering eyes" was the bit that got me laughing uncontrollably. What with? Needle and thread? Doesn't that hurt?

#178 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 06:15 PM:

Patrick: I'm sorry, very much so. The way I phrased what I wrote doesn't match the way I intended it nearly as well as it matches how you interpreted it. It was sloppy and stupid.

More than that, I'm sorry for bringing it up without having it handy to quote. If I had quoted and explained why I found parts of it ridiculous, it all probably would have come out better. I don't have the book, which is why I didn't quote it, but I really should have just not mentioned it--especially since, racking my brains now, it turns out I don't remember it well enough to even talk about it vaguely.

Sorry again. I was an asshole.

(I should also state, for Ken MacLeod's benefit, that I have liked other books by him. The Execution Channel just didn't work for me.)

#179 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 06:43 PM:

Once on a toilet door covered with violently racist and sexist graffiti, I saw the following words:

"It's nice to be nice, talk nice, and meet nice people".

Thank you for #153, abi.

#180 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 07:13 PM:

Xopher at #175 writes:

> That was a good game. We should play it again. I remember Mad doing a piece where they made family movies look like porn from the posters, and vice versa. My personal favorite: "She was bare! She was brazen! She was...Born Free!"

Xopher - have you seen the recut movie trailers for
Mary Poppins:
and The Shining

They are inspired beyond words. I could never have imagined that the most scary thing ever filmed (the little kid riding his tricycle around the hotel in The Shining) could be reimagined as a moment of supreme romantic sappiness. But it can, it can.

#181 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 07:46 PM:

ethan- I happen to have "The Execution Channel" right here. I couldn't actually remember there being a sex scene in the book, but, flipping through, I have found it. And the sentence "she was waving a condom packet at him" may well be what brought you up short. It certainly did me. It's just too... jaunty. I mean, holding the packet, yes, handing it to him, sure, but waving it?

#182 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 08:13 PM:

Xopher@154 was objecting to my use of the phrase "limp-wristed"...and rightly so. At the risk of going into TMI territory, let me note that I am myself bisexual, so anti-gay slurs affect me too. I apologize for giving offense, and beg everyone to read instead "limp and lifeless".

Martin Wisse@170: Oooh, wow. I used to own a copy of that. WIsh I'd remembered it. (Of course, the blurb served its purpose -- selling the book!)

#183 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 08:34 PM:

I can't quote these because I give my Asimov's magazines to my bookgroup after I read them, but some of the worst writing I've seen is when people take out full-page ads in Asimov's (usually the first matte paper page) for their self-published books. I still have the Oct-Nov issue, and there isn't one in there. I enjoy reading them to the bookgroup before I hand the magazine over; laughing is a good start to discussing our book for the month.

#184 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 08:43 PM:

And while reading during lunch this afternoon I found a wonderful example of an accidentally unreliable narrator followed by a good subconscious save. The unreliable part?

"The landscapes we passed were gorgeous and exquisitely colored, like a real-life Thomas Kinkade painting."

The save?

"It almost looked unreal, like Technicolor gone crazy."

Not naming the author because the book has been fine otherwise in the highly sought after "O.K. while eating" category. One that the Anita Blake books, for example, abandoned long ago...

#185 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 08:56 PM:

There is an entire book of Fanthorpe excerpts, called Down the Badger Hole, edited by Portland area booksellers Paul Wrigley and Debbie Cross. It's pretty amazing. To add to the Sweetness and Light portion of this thread, I want to point out that Fanthorpe is an amazingly good raconteur and a genuinely fine and interesting man (and his wife is amazing too) -- a motorcycle driver, martial artist, specialist on Fortean phenomena who has had his own TV show, and a man of the cloth. Seriously. If you ever get a chance to sit and talk with him, take it! And he knows his writing was execrable.

TNH@166: Don D'Ammassa liked Black Body? The mind boggles. I actually read an advance copy that came through The Other Change of Hobbit, so I may have read it shortly before publication. I kept expecting it to get less awful. It never did.

We used to pull the book out at cons, as with "The Eye of Argon", and see how far people could get opening it at random and starting to read, before their eyes bulged with incredulity. I know nothing of H. C. Turk in terms of recommending him on a personal level (except that his writing seems to me to be ineluctably masculine...).

#186 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:39 PM:

David Goldfarb @ 182... Thanks for trusting us.

#187 ::: Miriam ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2008, 10:48 PM:

The truly appalling Florence; Or, the Aspirant (3 vols., 1829) nearly caused me to have a nervous breakdown in the Harry Ransom Center, not least because of this sentence:

In the mean time a person gave a letter to the servant-maid for old Dr Campian, which she delivered immediately; and when Thomas returned, he found his master in a state of utter insensibility, or, to speak more truly, dead, and the letter lying before him on the table.

Personally, I'd always thought that "utter insensibility" and "dead" were two very different--indeed very obviously different--things. But apparently no.

#188 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:24 AM:

Possibly the funniest book I own is The Romance Writers' Phrase Book, by Jean Kent and Candace Shelton. It is, alas, out of print. If you ever see a copy, BUY IT. It's a collection of phrases to use to punch up your prose when you're writing romances. The book has 3000 of these things organized into sections --Eyes, Movement, Female physical characteristics, etc. They're mostly not terrible, assuming you enjoy the prose style of romances, but they are cumulatively hilarious. And the idea of multitudes of writers inserting them verbatim into stories is terrifying.

A few of the more awkward examples:

her hose felt like sheaths of clammy cloth on her exceptionally pretty legs

her lashes swept down across her cheekbones

she wondered if his broad shoulders ever tired of the burden he carried

his long, sturdy Viking legs

reflected light glimmered over his handsome face like beams of icy radiance

his full black hair flowed from his face like a crest

jauntily he cocked his blond head to one side

there was a suspicious line at the corners of his mouth

two dimples appeared as if loving fingers had squeezed her cheek

she felt her flesh color

he weighed her with a critical squint

excitement added shine to her eyes and polish to her cheeks

his eyes clung to hers, analyzing her reaction

her eyes froze on his lips

she saw him out of the tail of her eye

her jade-spoked eyes widened with astonishment

she saw his eyes, large glittering ovals of repudiation

The last pages of the book have color lists. Suggested replacements for "white/off-white:" milk, milky quartz, white jade, moonstone, ivory, cream, alabaster, opal, magnolia, vanilla, chalk, oyster, oatmeal, eggshell, ecru, parchment, snow, lily.

#189 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:31 AM:

Miriam @#187:

I kind of like the "utter insensibility/dead" bit, actually. Dead would be the extreme form of insensible, presumably.

The novel itself sounds amusingly dreadful, from what little I could find in tell?

#190 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:54 AM:

#188 Mary Dell: Jade-spoked eyes? Wouldn't that...hurt? The image coming to my mind is that of bicycle wheel spokes. Ouch.

Meanwhile I am trying to head off the urge to go root through the God-Awful Fanfiction Forums. Haven't been there in months; it may be time for another round.

#191 ::: Cynthia Wood ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 01:10 AM:

I can't even try to compete with the wonderfully technicolor purple prose that's been flying by.

However, a few years ago I lived in a small town that seemed to have only one writer of advertising blurbs - one cursed with a completely tone-deaf ear for unintentional meanings.

"You are not a number. You are not a disease. You are not at our hospital."

"Let (local newspaper) take you to the cleaners!" (For a collaboration between said paper and the local dry-cleaners.)

And of course, the just simply wrong.

"For a rememberable dining experience!"

#192 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 02:17 AM:

(just for the record, as probably the most commenting miriam around here, that's not me up above.)

#193 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 02:17 AM:

Mary Dell @ #188, "he weighed her with a critical squint"

That's some kind of scale, huh?

#194 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 02:21 AM:

Jennifer Crusie writes fast-paced, funny books that are more intelligent than the average romance novel (damning by faint praise). I like them a lot, and wouldn't normally think of one of her's in the context of this discussion -- but she's started collaborating with Bob Mayer. He writes manly books, with guns and mercenaries and such. A protagonist with that point of view in a romance novel produces some pretty odd stuff: "That was one hell of a woman. Out of the kill zone, damn it."

Thanks to the magic of Amazon, I just checked and the phrase "kill zone" shows up 8 times in "Don't Look Down". Apparently I'm not the only person who thought it was funny. The second collaboration doesn't have it at all.

#195 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 02:32 AM:

This thread has dubiously inspired me to check up on the current doings of Lanaia Lee, who is still indefatigably promoting "Of Atlantis" and even planning out the cast for the movie. I don't think I'd seen this one of her poems about the "Titanic" yet either, unlike the several others here.

#196 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 03:11 AM:

Yeah, but janetl, the first collaboration ("Don't Look Down") used an ex-Special Forces guy as a main character. I think "Agnes and the Hitman" (ready for pickup at my local library!) has gangsters, who don't typically use that term (at least not the ones I know!).

#197 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 04:47 AM:

ajay, #181, when the song does that bit about seeing a stranger across a crowded room, I'm sure that wasn't what the lyricist had in mind.

It is a very context-dependent image.

#198 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 06:34 AM:

miriam beetle, that was immediately apparent, because she used a capital M and no last name.

#199 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 10:39 AM:

Julie L., good grief that poem is bad. It has everything: a McGonagallesque grasp of mood, clanging mismatched and mixed metaphors, metrical horrors, a rhyme scheme that starts bad and peters out entirely by the third stanza... the last verse verges on sheer incomprehensibility (in what way could one describe the Titanic as 'leaving a legacy of pain dressed in a multicolored coat'? What could that even mean? Perhaps it was supposed to be a metaphor, but for what?)

(Even the last line drops a factual clanger. The Titanic didn't sink *onto* the sea, it sank *into* it. Perhaps this was a typo, but typos in poetry do not say much for the care of the author. I suspect she simply didn't know the difference between 'onto' and 'into'!)

'Hearing the tortured cries of people that are about to' read that poem, indeed.

#200 ::: Perky Possum ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 11:27 AM:

Hideyuki Kikuchi's Vampire Hunter D novel series offers a double whammy of "You wrote what?": over-the-top descriptions and over-the-top events. D, the vampire hunter protagonist, is always described as good-looking beyond compare: one short-lived heroine watches him in action and thinks, "He's so beautiful, he even makes death look good."

For impossible action, a sample from Mysterious Journey to the North Sea, Part One:

Dwight glared at D. It was said the mere look he could give people was enough to make him the leader of the Youth Corps. A second later, his whole body was enveloped in a chill that left him paralyzed. An unearthly and terrifying aura that emanated from the other man's eyes, freezing his heart, his lungs, and his very bones.

It's those damn eyes, isn't it?!

The instant he realized that, he shut his own eyes and bounded forward in a way that showed his instinct and ability as a veteran brawler. When a sharp pain shot once more through the arms he was swinging blindly, Dwight knew he was beaten. This time the top of his skull took the impact as he was stood on his head and lost consciousness in that same pose.

As D casually made his way back to his spot against the wall, he was surrounded by four more figures.

"That was some freaky shit you just pulled. What the hell are you?!" bellowed a giant every bit as big as Dwight. The single T-shaped claw that curved from the end of his right hand was a gaff hook for landing fish. "Serves that dope Dwight right for showing off. I'm gonna gouge out one of this freak's eyes. We'll have this outsider packing in no time. Heh," he snorted, "looks like we're due for a change in leadership."

At that point he spat at Dwight - who'd finally lost his balance and fallen over onto his stomach - and closed in on D.

In a matter of seconds, keen glints danced to the Hunter's right and his left, before him and behind him. No matter which way he focused his attention, he'd be attacked from the other three directions. It was a skillful ploy.

Each of them saw a flash of white light skim across his right wrist. There was the sound of a blade moving in its sheath on the young man's back. Each screaming curses at him in their heart of hearts, the men swung their arms. But they were oddly light. Something felt wrong about the shape of them, too. Stopping in their tracks, they took a look. Their right hands were gone at the wrist. Blood sprayed wildly from the wounds and rebounded from the ground.

Four screams raced down the street as the afternoon began to take a bluish tinge.

After the cries of pain had streamed past like the tails of a kite, the sheriff came running out of his office.

And just in case anyone wants assurance that, yes, Dwight did indeed perform a no-hands headstand:

"You've got the whole thing backwards, Sheriff."

The plump lawman bugged his eyes and said, "But Dwight - you're supposed to be one of the victims here!"

"I'm not a victim or a perpetrator," Dwight replied, staring at D with a strange look in his eye as he rubbed his bull neck. "It was a straight-up fight, plain and simple. Me and the boys picked a fight with him, and he took us up on it. Fair and square, too. He was barehanded against me, but used his sword when the others had their gaffs - and that just plain makes sense. The only thing funny about it was it being four against one."

"Yeah, but still - he went too far. He cut folks' hands off!"

"And what would you have to say if one of those hooks had torn his throat open?" Dwight said as he stood up and knocked the mud from his pants. "You should be thanking him for not taking their heads off. Anyhow, I saw the whole thing from start to finish, even though I was on my head at the time. If the person who started the fight says so, you can't get any more accurate than that."


#201 ::: Tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Julie L

Oh. My. God.

Flaming Horse Studios!

Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz, read and weep!

#202 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 11:46 AM:

I know, it's a sex scene, but I don't see any Edward Lee here.

Moans merged with the sacred litany. Before the great stone dolmen, the orgy ensued -- random sweating bodies conjoined to form an entity of its own. Bare breasts jutted. Legs were splayed and buttocks were parted. Sweat-sheened abdomens sucked tensely in and out as genitals were bared to descending mouths. Arms and legs were wrapped around backs; bare hips fidgeted in a desperate plea to deepen penetration. the firelight raged as the festival drew on, time proceeding not in seconds and minutes but in rolling eyes, in gasps, and in the pulses of orgasm. Men's bleak faces were sat upon as dominant women grinned in macabre glee. . .

"Men's bleak faces were sat upon..." I always have to pause and admire that line.

#203 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:01 PM:

Mary Dell (188): "her eyes froze on his lips" sounds like a cannibal in a blizzard.

janetl (194), Linkmeister (196): Agnes and the Hitman is much better than the first one. I recommend it, if you haven't read it yet.

#204 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:08 PM:

What does it say about me that I tend to forget bad prose? I also tend to forget the author and the book, as I tend to cull the herd instantly of the most obstreperous examples.

To me, the worst ones are those that actually have a decent story to tell, but it keeps getting lost in the bad dialogue.

#205 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:09 PM:

Adrian, way up at 18:
Thanks, that was wonderful. The anti-ear - perfect!

Teresa @161: "You know how easy it is to headtrip writers and copyeditors by telling them they did something wrong? It works on editors, too."

Is that because these are people who long for The Right Words in a profession where there are no such standards? Translators have the same problem. Even stray comments make us go back and rethink (and rethink, and rethink) choices that should have been in the past.

I wonder what causes it. Perhaps the tension between the follow-the-rules-ness inherent in trying to stick with a particular standard of language and the vast open spaces within the boundaries described (or hinted at)by those rules.

#206 ::: J Greely ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 12:12 PM:

Perky @ 200: Japanese prose piles on modifiers in ways that should almost never be translated literally. I skimmed through the first few pages of Amazon's excerpts from the first and third D novels, and Kevin Leahy's attempt to faithfully preserve every modifying clause and nuanced word choice really sticks out. Book 3, paragraph 1: "The tiny village obstinately refused the blessings the sunlight poured down so generously upon it."

Amazon Japan doesn't have any excerpts of the original text from the D novels, so I can't say if his word choices are good matches for the originals ("Limning an elegant arc quite different from the straight blades cherished by so many other Hunters..."). Probably.

I vote for sending Kevin a case of commas and a sturdy pair of clause clippers.


#207 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 01:36 PM:

Linkmeister @ #196: "Agnes and the Hitman" (ready for pickup at my local library!) has gangsters, who don't typically use that term (at least not the ones I know!).

Gosh, my gangster friends say "kill zone" all the time. ;^) It's good to hear that it's better. I feared that this new collaboration thing would rob me of Crusie enjoyment. I'll check out Agnes. (puns intended) Did you know that Elizabeth Peters has published a new Vicky Bliss? Ah, joy.

#208 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 01:44 PM:

janetl (207): The new Vicky Bliss is next on my reading stack. Now if Peters would just write another Jacqueline Kirby novel, I'd be in heaven.

#209 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 01:57 PM:

Dena Shunra @205: people who long for The Right Words in a profession where there are no such standards?
Ah, the tension between perfection and the complete impossibility of achieving it. I don't think I've ever received code from someone without them apologizing along the lines of "I haven't had a chance to clean it up...we just needed to get something working...."
This reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse saying something about Flaubert's reputed struggle to find le mot juste. I decided to find the quote, and went to Google books. Omigod. I got 14 hits. This newfangled power to search across books is so revealing. Wodehouse jokes about polishing your prose, but I believe he really did. When I read his books, I consciously slow myself down, and re-read bits to savor the luscious language.

#210 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 05:10 PM:

I think the collected works of John Norman bears mention in this thread, but I'd rather not quote him.

#211 ::: Cathy Krusberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 06:21 PM:

I have the dubious privilege of owning but never having read The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman, by Arthur N. Scram (per the title page) or Arthur N. Scarm (per the cover). In the following I've tried to avoid quoting material available in the link from Wesley @ 104. The first chapter sets the scene with Waldo, a werewolf, "dead on a mahogany slab in a morgue."

A mahogany slab in a morgue?

The narrator has warned us that "Everyone with the slightest knowledge of werewolves knows if you separate a werewolf from his silver bullet, he can return to life." The coroner, however, hasn't gotten the memo. Ditto, apparently, for his assistant, Ruth Anne Warren.

Coroner Sands held up the extracted bullet with an air of superiority to show his find to Ruth. It was his last air of superiority he was ever able to muster in this world.

Waldo shivered slightly, took one deep breath and then wrung the coroner's neck with one hand until Coroner Sands' tongue dropped to the dimple in his chin. It was all over in a moment even before Ruth Anne Warren could protest volubly.

Waldo snags the fleeing Ruth with "an arm like a hook at a vaudeville show." However:

Waldo had no intention of harming Ruth. She was too gorgeous for that. In one yank he pulled off her silk blouse and lace bra and left her standing defenseless against any young child who might come along who wanted his lunch.

Waldo proceeds to smoothly/forcibly remove all Ruth's other clothing, except her blue ankle socks and moccasins.

Now werewolves like beautiful nude women just as much as non-werewolves, in fact even more. Waldo proceeded to have his way with Ruth on the mahogany slab where he once lay dead.

When it was over Ruth decided werewolves weren't as bad as they are pictured. As for Waldo, he was now completely disinterested in Ruth. He took the silver bullet that once was in his heart and put it in his pocket.

Probably en route to one of those "cash for old jewelry" outfits.

Here is Waldo smooth-talking the Vampire Woman, Wandessa:

"You need my strength. It's never been done before. A vampire and a werewolf together against the world.* Do you know what we can accomplish? The evil? The hate? The destruction? We can do more in the way of annihilation than the humans themselves and that's a lot. Try it with me. Believe me it'll work."

Yeah, I think it's OK that I haven't read this one. And yeah, the punctuation is pretty much as I've reproduced it. I think this guy needs a case of commas a heap worse than Kevin Leahy does.

*Clearly someone has never read the old EC comics.

#212 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 08:37 PM:

I pretty much automatically downgrade anything that has an evil character bragging about how evil he is, or talking about what he wants to do in terms of "accomplishing evil."

OK, Doctor Horrible. But seriously, evil people generally don't think they're evil, and they usually have some motivation other than the evil wish to evilly do evilness.

#213 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 09:12 PM:

Xopher @ 212, Dr. Horrible is so meta that it doesn't count.

But then, Watchmen is even more meta than that, and it doesn't have that going on. (I will carefully refrain from going into any details so as not to spoil anyone who hasn't read it. That's one of the few books where I genuinely think that having it spoiled for you would actually spoil it.)

Oooh, I just thought of my own contribution (having nothing to do with my previous remarks in this comment): The entirety of Rick Moody's short story collection Demonology. I sold my copy and now wish I hadn't; I need to re-buy it just so that I can quote from it as necessary. There is a short story that is all one sentence, with ridiculous levels of comma splicing. J Greely @ 206, that story is the reason why you can't find a case of commas. He's using all of them.

#214 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 09:13 PM:

One can find an excerpt (although not of the story I mentioned) here:

I hope that link works. If not, search for it at Amazon and click "Search Inside."

#215 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 09:26 PM:

janetl @ 207, Mary Aileen @ #208, I'm waiting for the new Bliss. I got the feeling from reading the latest Amelia book that Peters intended it to be the final one in that series; it read like it was mailed in compared to the rest of them.

#216 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 09:42 PM:

More on cheese: There's a very odd book on Project Gutenberg called The Complete Book of Cheese. I just skimmed bits of it and I'm not certain whether it's serious or a parody. Maybe it's both; either way, there are some very nice pen-and-ink illustrations. It quotes McIntyre's ode and then another poem about "a one hundred percent American mammoth... The Ultra-Democratic, Anti-Federalist Cheese of Cheshire."

Then sextonlike, the patriot troop,
With naked arms and crown,
Embraced, with hardy hands, the scoop,
And filled the vast expanded hoop,
While beetles smacked it down.

Supposedly this cheese was presented to Thomas Jefferson in 1801:

Jefferson's speech of thanks to the democratic people of Cheshire rings out in history: "I look upon this cheese as a token of fidelity from the very heart of the people of this land to the great cause of equal rights to all men."
#217 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 11:06 PM:

I found this sentence in a true confessions magazine some forty years ago:

She flushed with anger and tore up the stairs.

Magnificent in its own way.

#218 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2008, 11:35 PM:

Bought a remaindered copy of Gore Vidal's The Golden Age, and note that it doesn't seem to be said often enough that Gore Vidal writes damn nearly worse than Dan Brown. I skim through for the political snark, but how much easier it would be to take if he'd just do it straight and skip the attempt to write a novel.
The stretch and slip of the timeline in the conversations. Open at random. p.22.
Time one -
"Good evening, Mr. President." She felt for an instant that she should curtsy in the awesome presence... [five lines description] Roosevelt removed his pince-nez,
and we snap back to time two -
worn, Eleanor had sighed, as a reminder of his political mentor, President Woodrow Wilson. "We hope Franklin won't make the same mistakes poor Mr. Wilson did."
"Such as going to war?" Caroline, like everyone else in the world, wanted to know what the president intended to do... [three lines expansion]
Time one again.
"Caroline!" The resonant voice filled the room... (4 lines) Tonight he was not wearing the braces. But then
Time three
he had always been at home with Caroline since they had first met twenty years earlier... (12 lines) unless the master politician was to run for a third term.
Time four
"Nor will I run" he assured Caroline her first evening in the White House...
Then across to time - hell, I don't know; one? Four?
But, so far, there was no shooting war, though she knew it was coming, and so she carefully answered his questions about the part of France where she lived...

He has all the style and grace of a chest of drawers falling downstairs. Which is odd, because he's a good essayist and a clear and graphic speaker. Why does he fall apart so totally as a novelist? I don't remember him being this bad earlier - in, say, Julian, though that does remind me that I read Julian in Thailand in 1964 and my memory for style probably doesn't cover forty years. Burr, Lincoln, that one about plato and confucius - were they this bad? I must re-dip.

#219 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 12:02 AM:

And Macaulay's early and soon-abandoned Roman novel:

"Your language, Caius Julius, convinces me that the reports which have been circulated are not without foundation. I will venture to prophesy that within a few months the republic will pass through a whole Odyssey of strange adventures."

"I believe so; an Odyssey, of which Pompey will be the Polyphemus, and Cicero the Siren. I would have the state imitate Ulysses: show no mercy to the former; but contrive, if it can be done, to listen to the enchanting voice of the other, without being seduced by it to destruction."

"But whom can your party produce as rivals to these two famous leaders?"

"Time will show. I would hope that there may arise a man, whose genius to conquer, to conciliate, and to govern, may unite in one cause an oppressed and divided people;—may do all that Sylla should have done, and exhibit the magnificent spectacle of a great nation directed by a great mind."

"And where is such a man to be found?"

"Perhaps where you would least expect to find him. Perhaps he may be one whose powers have hitherto been concealed in domestic or literary retirement. Perhaps he may be one, who, while waiting for some adequate excitement, for some worthy opportunity, squanders on trifles a genius before which may yet be humbled the sword of Pompey and the gown of Cicero. Perhaps he may now be disputing with a sophist; perhaps prattling with a mistress; perhaps" and, as he spoke, he turned away, and resumed his lounge, "strolling in the Forum."


#220 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 12:30 AM:

janetl @ 209 ...
I don't think I've ever received code from someone without them apologizing along the lines of "I haven't had a chance to clean it up...we just needed to get something working...."

Funny... I was just saying something along those lines...

That reminds me -- I haven't been able to track down the specific location for this particular code comment (I suspect somewhere in the linux kernel, or commonly used linux libraries), but it's entirely appropriate to this thread, and quite unforgetable:

/* This is where I touch myself and think about spoons */

#221 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 01:50 AM:

miriam beetle, #192, I noticed you're showing at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda on October 4-5th. Think you'll have time for dinner or something with some of the DC-area Fluorospherians?

#222 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 07:17 AM:

216: "I look upon this cheese as a token of fidelity from the very heart of the people of this land to the great cause of equal rights to all men."

Thomas Jefferson clearly had a bit of work to do on his romance novel cover blurb.

#223 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 07:53 AM:

Nix @ 177

This moose is reminded of the Stargate[TM] novelisation that included "The shot went through Freeman's head like a ripe watermelon" and led directly to Tom Holt's "Good Morning Neverland" send-up.

Other prose best left unread (as warned by Dave Langford) is Habitation One by F. Dunstan, of which one reviewer advised: "Please do not buy this book, even to read on trains."

I suppose I could always dig out the Philip E. High novels for more deathless^W deadly prose.


#224 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 08:17 AM:

I read _Habitation One_ when I was about fifteen and found nothing whatsoever odd or unpleasant about it. Ten years later, after reading Langford's panning, I went back and reread it, and what do you know? It was a horrendous tasteless blundering mess, just as he said.

This radical difference cannot be explained by a change in me (if anything I was more squeamish when I was fifteen than I am now). So it must be the book. The cause is clear: at some point in that ten-year gap, someone broke into my house and swapped my copy of _Habitation One_ for the nasty one.

I suspect a literary critic ninja in Langford's pay, or perhaps a werewolf/vampire hybrid on the hunt for good books and with a large stock of dreck to get rid of.

#225 ::: Sian Hogan ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 09:34 AM:

My offering is.. not bad, exactly... but kinda old-fashioned for something published in 1913. A single sentence:

'The spiritual beauty of Beatrice in that sonnet of Dante, which tells how
"Humbleness and the hope that hopeth well,
By speech of hers into the mind are brought,"
is embraced in the wide sweep of the circle-say, rather, the parabola-of those forces which defeat undue timidity and petty fears; for such gently inspired hope has its place there on the infinite, ever-ascending pathway, as well as those glowing flames which enkindle self-sacrifice and holy drudgery with a fearless joy-gift of that Highest Love, that Consuming Fire, wherein all noble loves endure.'

(From the introduction to "A Little Book of Courage", Annie Matheson)

I assure you that "say, rather, the parabola" makes no more sense in context.

#226 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 12:09 PM:

Speaking of books we might be quoting from if we hadn't disposed of them long since, I am minded of a novel once given to me by a relative.

I heard, not long after I read it, that the (now best-selling) author shopped his first novel around to many publishers without success before it was picked up by somebody who'd never edited a thriller novel before, knew nothing about editing thriller novels, but loved his manuscript so much that she was prepared to give it a go. I have never doubted this account for a moment.

#227 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 01:47 PM:

Linkmeister (215): I'm most of the way through the new Bliss now. Mmmmm, I needed that. I had become increasingly disenchanted with the Peabody series, and not just because Peters was running out of steam. Even the earlier ones don't hold me any more.

#228 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 02:11 PM:

"You may believe the cops are all sweetnees and light; wouldn't harm a fly, couldn't be used to wag the dog. Bully for you, continue being a good little lackey to the PTB, when the black helicopters of the Right Wing's One World Gov't show up I know you'll think them perfectly jusified, just as the FBI was at Ruby Ridge, and the BATF in Waco."

Do posts to discussion boards count? I find this bloated and hilarious - mostly because it was aimed at me.

#229 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 02:32 PM:

JJ Fozz @228:

I think we've had quite enough strife and annoyance on this thread without you picking a fight. You want to talk to the poster of that comment? Do it on the thread in question.

Of course that would be the thread that also includes the comments that I disemvoweled for blatant rudeness. Not the best way to look good in the argument, is that?

#230 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 02:37 PM:

Abi, it's not like I'm running for president here. I don't mind people reading what I wrote, or the conversation that ensued. Judging by others' comments in that thread, including yours, I wasn't the only one at fault.

I was just trying some humor on a Monday. Guess that failed.

#231 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 02:50 PM:

JJ Fozz:
OK, I can see how you could have meant it to be humorous. It didn't come off that way, but that's the internet for you.

My suggestion is that self-deprecation works better in these situations than needling other people, particularly if the matter between you was unresolved. No one will dogpile on you if you do that (not with vowels, anyway).

It often takes a while to settle into the pace and rhythms of a new community. I'd like to say that I am impressed with how gracefully you've recovered from that awkward beginning. I was actually surprised at the comment here, and, again, I'm glad it was intended as a joke.

You don't write poetry, do you, by any chance?

#232 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Abi, thanks for the input, you are right about needling other people. In the future, I will make my stand and play nice. Lots of interesting stuff on these boards, and I understand that in order to get the most out of it, my comments should extend the conversation, not block it.

I have been writing for more than 20 years in a business capacity. I have some poems from my callow youth that make me cringe. Haven't written creatively for several years - other personal commitments and responsibilities occupy my time. Still, I have a few that I can read without blushing and thinking, "Who wrote this crap?"

#233 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 03:09 PM:

207: I did not!

Excuse me. I have to go to the bookstore. Right now.

#234 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 03:15 PM:

Terry Karney @ 47

Natural Flavor hunted almost to extinction in Hard Cider. The Sulfites and the Sorbates called in to protect, Naturally Gluten now driven from shore. Send more.

#235 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 03:23 PM:

JJ Fozz:
We aren't doing any threads on it right now, but we do enjoy doggerel, sonnets, limericks, haiku, villanelles, rewrites of William Carlos Williams, poetry slams, and all sorts of metrical and rhymed foolishness.

You should join in if one starts up.

And, if you want to waste a few hours of your time, there is always this thread. I don't know if any of the contributions there belong here (some of mine might).

#236 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 04:32 PM:

Vef @ 69: Every mention of 'High Lord Kevin' sent me off into giggles anyway.

I know. I think many a SF/F writer go a tad overboard with contrived names, but...Kevin?!

I quite enjoyed his Gap-series and Mordant's Need though.

Mary Dell @ 198: Excerpt from Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram

I rather like this sentence: My body was her chariot, and she drove it into the sun.
The rest is gloriously something.

P J Evans @ 112: One ought always to have a tempestuous Welsh housemaid at hand, although I believe a tempestuous handmaiden is an acceptable anternative.

#237 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 04:48 PM:

Drat. Make that Mary Dell at 108.

#238 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 05:12 PM:

#228 Do posts to discussion boards count?

No. Under the rules the prose must have been commercially published.

#239 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 05:21 PM:

Mary Dell @ 188: his full black hair flowed from his face like a crest

Paranormal werecocatricewolf romance?

#240 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 08:21 PM:

Spotted in the "new SF/F" section of the local library today: Rayna of Nightwind ("First of the Taren novels) by RA Baker; its unfortunate first sentence is "Under the calm of the star-filled sky, the wrinkled hag shuffled, a crooked cane in her gnarred[sic] hand, taking smalls[sic] steps so she didn't tire before she reached the guardhouse."

This does not create great confidence in either its publisher (Apollo House Press, which has no other books listed on its site other than its Amazon-affiliate "bookstore") or its editor (credited as AJ Sobczak), and I'm not really sure that it qualifies as a non-vanity project. But I'm rather appalled that the library evidently went out of its way to acquire it-- donations usually seem to be routed straight to the booksale rather than added to the shelf.

On the other hand, how wonderful to have such a skillful and considerate cane.

#241 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 09:11 PM:

JJ Fozz -- nice recovery, and glad you like the conversation. One thing this board seems to lack is a place to actively welcome newcomers. That's a general lack with blogs, though.

Now, if you'd included one of your own less felicitous but not disemvowelled comments from that thread, I think folks would have recognized it as humorous.

It's nice when someone's not drowning, but waving....

Getting back on topic, I was recently using M. P. Shiel's collection Xelucha and Other Stories as an insomnia cure. I can't put my hands on my copy immediately. There are many people in the field whose writing is sui generis: several are very good. Shiel is not. The blurb for his other late Arkham House book describes his stories as "invested with this author's own inimitible frenzied madness and spellbinding stylistic sorcery." That alone is enough to qualify for listing here -- would that make you want to read a book? Or "... the madcap machinations of Cummings King Monk in 'He Meddles with Women' will attest to the boundless bizarrerie in which this writer reveled." And the No-Prize for Arrant Alliteration goes to....

Oh good -- now I have another book to use when I can't sleep!

#242 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 09:24 PM:

I've been lurking on this thread and enjoying what I've been seeing. (And I've been searching online for anything that looks like it might be old enough to be out of copyright. Links to online copies of _Bookbinding for Bibliophiles_, _Mischievous Maid Faynie_, and _The Complete Book of Cheese_ have all gone out on my RSS feed in the last few days. A few other titles mentioned, like _A Little Book of Courage_, I've not yet been able to find.)

On vanity vs. commercial pubs: Sometimes the line between vanity and commercial publication gets a bit blurry. Right now, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia is full of big "Golden Age Stories" posters, advertising L. Ron Hubbard stories from the 30s to the 50s being reissued by Galaxy Press. There are standup displays in the station bookstores as well. (Galaxy Press exists to publish L. Ron Hubbard's fiction, just as Bridge Publications exists to publish his Scientology writings.)

Hubbard's early published works weren't vanity published, though I haven't found them interesting enough personally to read, and I doubt they'd be reissued now if it weren't for Galaxy. I do know that by the time he decided to get back into SF late in life via his own publishing operations, his writing was pretty awful. But, with his own publishing house and a loyal group of followers ready to help get his books onto bestseller lists, he still got quite wide distribution and attention.

I've picked up a volume of Mission Earth (Hubbards final magnum opus, with emphasis on the magnum) once or twice out of curiosity, only to put it down again pretty quickly. An quote from an LA Times review of the first volume that I found online gives a taste of the writing:

"Parts of _The Invaders Plan_ read as if poorly translated from the Japanese. 'The blastgun barrel was into my stomach with violence!' goes one entire paragraph, characteristically substituting typographical stridence for the crisp prose and well-visualized action so conspicuously absent from the book."

#243 ::: xenoglossy ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 10:11 PM:

Perky Possum @ #200: And here I thought I was the only one who thought that the Vampire Hunter D novels were extremely clunkily written. I only read one, and that was years ago, but I remember only too well the frequent descriptions of D's amazing beauty. I also remember that every single time a vampire showed up, his or her skin was described as "paraffin-like." Every. Single. Time. The fault there might have been the translator's, though.

#244 ::: Brenda Kalt ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2008, 11:16 PM:

Janetl @ 207 and Mary Aileen @ 208: I'm 3/4 of the way through the new Vicky Bliss novel (The Laughter of Dead Kings) and happy about it. Mary Aileen, I agree--Jacqueline Kirby is my favorite of all her characters.

I have one quibble with this book--halfway through, or earlier, I figured out Who Dun It. If it's not who I think it is, she (Peters) has done a brilliant job.

#245 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 01:10 AM:

Linkmeister @ 193

That's some kind of scale, huh?

Nope, a brand of concrete overshoes.

#246 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 01:17 AM:

Tom Whitmore: have I got an insomnia cure for you!

I have been reading up on the insane adventure where Charles Wogan rescued the Princess Clementina and got her to the Pretender because I want to write something about it. (If Bujold ever reads up on it I'm sunk: I swear to God it's straight out of Mad Miles at his most manic with Ivan desperately running along behind trying to catch up.) There have been a number of books on the subject including Wogan's account, and I've got most of them (or in the case of Wogan a really good photocopy). The most recent is called "A Wife for the Pretender" by Peggy Miller and, well...did you ever read The Virginian? If so do you remember the line about "--as if some one should say, 'Let me persuade you to admire woman,' and forthwith hold out her bleached bones to you." That's Miller's book in a nutshell--every detail you could want about the whole bizarre adventure, all the players listed, and with every drop of life squeezed out of it. If I hadn't needed the info in it so badly I would have heaved it across the room...and I finally had to quit reading it in bed because I could only pull off about five pages at a time.

#247 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 05:10 AM:

Meanwhile, I'd like to contribute a different kind of prose badness. Most of the examples here are at least somewhat overwrought; however, I have recently said (to myself) the Eight Deadly Words - which I virtually _never_ do - about a book whose writing is pretty much underwrought. It's like 273 pages of See Spot Run, except on a high-school reading level; periods religiously every ten to fifteen words (well, okay, there are some longer sentences, but they neither run nor dance; they wobble and plod), emotions (where they appear) are described instead of shown, and it's all interspersed with repeated infodumps that make Weber's look readable, about various episodes in Scottish history.

Before I get any further, I'll let y'all know that it's Martin Millar's _The Good Fairies of New York_. Stay away. Far away.

"Outside, the sun shone. Inside, Kerry and Morag got drunk. This was not good for Kerry as her wasting disease left her short of energy, but it made her mind feel better.

'Two in two days,' she mused, referring to another tramp who had laid down and died on the sidewalk outside. Kerry and Morag placed some flowers around the corpse and called an ambulance. Tired now, she lay down to rest and asked Morag the reason for her continuing argument with Heather.

'It is partly because I am a MacPherson and she is a MacKintosh,' explained Morag. 'And there is
a very ancient and bitter feud between the MacPhersons and the MacKintoshes. I will tell you all about this later. [...]'"

and on and on and on. It's very much like all the adjectives and overblownness of the other examples given here have ALL been drained straight out of the veins of this book, leaving a limp sodden mess of sentences behind.

Dave Bob gives it about minus seven thumbs up.


#248 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 07:44 AM:

#204 What does it say about me that I tend to forget bad prose?

Me too. I've been desperately trying to remember which out of half a dozen books was the one where I was jolted out of it last month, and can't for the life of me think of it. Or what the scene was.

#249 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 07:46 AM:


noticed you're showing at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda on October 4-5th. Think you'll have time for dinner or something with some of the DC-area Fluorospherians?

i'd love to, but i'm only in town for three days, two of which i'll be behind a table... also i'm in israel right now, getting home on the fifteenth, so i don't have time to set something up now. but maybe we can start talking about it in the next open thread....

#250 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 08:00 AM:

Another piece of TV-tie-in related writing: In England, someone or other used to publish things called "annuals," hardcover books of anonymously written, half-assed stories and comics about popular TV shows. Some of the Doctor Who DVD releases have included PDF copies of Doctor Who annuals. Here, from 1976, are representative paragraphs from "The Sinister Sponge":

A small greeny yellow cloud had appeared at the rim of the valley and seemed to be moving towards them.
"That's funny," mused the Doctor, "its movement is anything but nebular."


As the sun rose slowly in the sky Doctor Who made a quick journey back to the Tardis, and the men from the neighbouring cabbages congregated in the middle of the patch, waiting for their wives and daughters to come and taunt them.


In fact the Doctor and the sponge were using Femizonian Aurapathy, a means of communication known to very few outside Femizor, thegigantic sponge colony in Alpha Mardis 2. The Doctor knew how dangerous it would be to make direct telepathic contact with the sponge.
#251 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 09:01 AM:

The Doctor knew how dangerous it would be to make direct telepathic contact with the sponge.

I am filing that away for the next caption contest I come across.

#252 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 10:04 AM:

Chris Borthwick @219

the reports which have been circulated are not without foundation

But sadly lacking in blush.

#253 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 10:15 AM:

What can you say about a writer who deliberately does it to himself? Alan Dean Foster fell in love with Eric Frank Russell's prose* and has reworked his own in recent years to match:

"She looked up from her pad to meet his gaze. Concern was writ large there, and he was clearly looking for some sort of reassurance."

Not the worst writing in the world, but clunky enough to require bulk rate mailing. And it's not as good as what he started with**.

*I've got to admit a guilty liking for Russell, although his prose is the least part of what he did).
** Which wasn't really good either, but still -

#254 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 10:18 AM:

#204 and #208 -- me three (repressing forgetting bad prose). However, looking for things I might post here, I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover all sorts of good stuff on my bookshelves, waiting to be read or re-read. Guess it's been awhile since I've taken mental inventory.

#255 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 10:49 AM:

David, #247: The quoted text sounds as if it was written by Data -- there are no contractions, even in the dialogue where one would expect them to occur naturally. Does that pattern continue in the rest of the book?

#256 ::: JJ Fozz ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Tom Whitmore - you're right, that would have been hilarious - I can laugh at myself, I do it every morning right before I shave and look in the mirror.

#257 ::: James Moar ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 04:13 PM:

Wesley @ 250

That's dreadful. I mean, everyone knows you never refer to the Doctor as "Doctor Who".

#258 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 04:31 PM:

James 257: That was the first thing I noticed about it, too!

#259 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 05:26 PM:

Tom Whitmore @241:

I enjoyed M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud, though not well enough to rush out and read everything else I can find by him; creepy in spots, but probably intentionally so. The frame story didn't do much for me, but I write that off; a lot of early fantasy and sf has frame stories taht seem superfluous to modern readers who are already familiar with the tropes involved, as the original readers might not have been.

Marilee @183:

Indeed, some of those ads for self-published books are painfully funny. They can't write two coherent sentences of ad copy, and they expect us to buy their book? The transparent ruses used to make it seem as though they're not self-published or vanity press are funny, too, in their own way.

What's sad is that some of those same ads keep reappearing. Either said self-published authors are futilely pouring more and more money down the drain, or somebody is actually buying books based on those ads, making it worth the author's while to rerun the ad; not sure which would be worse.

#260 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 06:07 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom@242, do you have a link to that LA Times review? I'm always on the lookout for excellent pannings, and reviews of Hubbard books seem like a good source. (This thread has provided several good pannings already.)

(Google doesn't find it, presumably thanks to the awesome powers of the clams' lawyers.)

#261 ::: Erin C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 08:14 PM:

So glad to see the comments about the Vampire Hunter D novels. I was a big fan of the movies... and then the novels made it to the U.S. I was so disillusioned. Although actually, they make for pretty good reading when I'm feeling blue -- the breakneck pace and absurd worldbuilding combine with the frequently silly action sequences to make them a good subject for do-it-yourself MST3K.

Here's a quote from the second novel, Raiser of Gales:

"If I were to go out now, my body temperature would drop nearly four degrees," D said, watching the [rain] droplets smashing against his outstretched hand. "My running speed would fall by thirty percent, you see, as my whole metabolism slowed down."

D must be a LARP character, because he apparently has stats.

#262 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 08:17 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom@242, do you have a link to that LA Times review? I'm always on the lookout for excellent pannings, and reviews of Hubbard books seem like a good source. (This thread has provided several good pannings already.)

(Google doesn't find it, presumably thanks to the awesome powers of the clams' lawyers.)

#263 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 08:20 PM:

Oop, sorry for the multipost: the first got me told that the post hadn't gone through because I'd posted too much recently, but obviously it did go through after all. (A couple of comments in several hours doesn't seem like a lot to me: has something gone skewy?)

#264 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 08:42 PM:

Nix: The full review isn't on the open web, as far as I'm aware, but it was written by Victor W. Milan, and appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Feb. 9, 1986. I found a complete copy of the review in the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database, which may be available through your library. (They may also have access to this issue through other databases, or on microfilm.)

The paragraph I quoted (the third from the end) is quoted on this web page (which is where I originally found the quote).

If reading the novel was a chore, editing the novel was apparently more so. In 2000, ex-Scientologist Robert Vaughan Young posted an article to Usenet (archived here and elsewhere) describing how he got stuck with that job, and what editing entailed.

I don't know what it's usually like to edit SF books, but I'd hope that Patrick has an easier time of it than Robert did. (If nothing else, the ability to reject submissions has to help.)

#265 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 09:58 PM:

JJ Fozz @ 256: that's why I tend to shave in the shower, without looking in a mirror.

Jim Henry @259: Here's a bit of Shiel for y'all:

"To say that there are epidemics of suicide is to give expression to what is now a mere commonplace of knowledge. And so far are they from being of rare occurrence, that it has even been affirmed that every sensational case of felo de se published in the newspapers is sure to be followed by some others more obscure; their frequency, indeed, is out of all proportion with the extent of each outbreak. Sometimes, however, especially in villages and small townships, the wildfire madness becomes an all involving passion, emulating in its fury the great plagues of history.(...) At such times it is as if the optic nerve of the mind throughout whole communities became distorted, till in the noseless and black-robed Reaper is discerned an angel of very loveliness. As a brimming maiden, outworn by her virginity, yields half-fainting to the dear sick stress of her desire -- with just such faintings, wanton fires, does the soul, over-taxed by the continence of living, yield voluntarily to the grave, and adulterously make of Death its paramour." That's the beginning of one of the better stories. Note that these are nominally mysteries: where, in fact, the information that is needed to solve the mystery is invariably (so far) omitted.

#266 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2008, 11:00 PM:

Lee @ 250 - The fairies don't use contractions (and these aren't the only two). It may be an attempt to make their speech sound foreign. I believe the human characters do... though, thinking about it, the descriptions of what they're doing may not. Not gonna open the book again to find out, though.


#267 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 12:14 AM:

miriam beetle, #249, sounds good!

#268 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 05:17 AM:

James Moar@257: My Katie does. For instance, when we watched "The Christmas Invasion", she remarked, "Television swordfights are contests of cool. He ought to know he can't win a contest of cool against Doctor Who." I tried to tell her otherwise, but at this point it's a battle I've given up fighting.

#269 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 11:53 AM:

Slightly off-topic . . . Is there any consensus here on whether Pynchon is one of the best writers of our time, or one of the worst? I can't decide. It could hardly be in the middle.

#270 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 12:14 PM:

269: Is there any consensus here on whether Pynchon is one of the best writers of our time, or one of the worst?

I don't know about consensus, but I would certainly agree with you. Pynchon is indeed one of the best writers of our time, or one of the worst.

#271 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 12:28 PM:

#75 and #224:

When I was in high school, I absolutely loved the Thomas Covenant novels. I didn't go back to them until reading some comments here that made it plain how bad his prose was. I now see how bad they are. But I can remember why they were good.

#272 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 01:05 PM:

What I see reading through these comments are two near-orthogonal dimensions of badness: content and prose. "Bad" content can be further subdivided into morally objectionable, stupefyingly dull, or intellectually indefensible. There's a certain eye-of-the-beholder quality to these, of course. I personally like to read about statistics, which is a subject high on many people's Dullmeter.

Bad prose can be overwritten, underwritten, or just plain incomprehensible.

Bad content is most likely to lead to the serious step of throwing out the book instead of passing it along. Bad prose is more likely to be amusing.

People vary in how tolerant they are of bad prose. Appreciation of good prose is an acquired taste, which why (1) writers and editors are especially sensitive to it, and (2) rereading a book you loved in high school may be less satisfying the next time around.

Personally, I find the combination of good content (e.g. a strong story and characters) and bad prose to be the most annoying. There's a fantasy novel I'm not going to name in this thread, because I like it. It's a good book. I love the characters and the plot is neither trite nor slow. The prose has its moments; it's not uniformly bad. But it drives me nuts that this is not the great book it could have been, because I can't read a page without stumbling over some obstacle of prose - excess adjectives here, both telling and showing there. Argh.

#273 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 03:13 PM:

Not a book, but one of the local health insurance corporations is branding itself with "Redshirt Treatment."

#274 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Going back to my comments on Clark Ashton Smith, above, while his prose is heinously overwrought - the opposite of the Good Fairies... samples above - there are two important differences between his overly florid prose and really really bad prose:
1) Smith really has a huge vocabulary at his fingertips; he doesn't constantly repeat the same few words. He may use 30 different adjectives for black in one short story.
2) Smith actually uses all the words in his lexicon correctly, however obscure they may be.
3) He often tells a good story, for which much can be forgiven.

#275 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 04:04 PM:

one of the local health insurance corporations is branding itself with "Redshirt Treatment."

Let me guess: they do health insurance but not life insurance?

#276 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2008, 05:04 PM:

OtterB, #272: "Bad" content can be further subdivided into morally objectionable, stupefyingly dull, or intellectually indefensible.

There's also just plain weird content. Weird content--specifically, content the writer didn't seem to realize was weird; deliberate weirdness is always either good or mediocre--is the best and most readable kind of bad content. Weirdness is why I love the Cleek series I mentioned above; in the first volume the murder weapons include a six-fingered skeleton, a sneezing lion, and the sassafras-loving Patagonian Mynga worm. And then there's Harry Stephen Keeler. One of his books reportedly involved the "Flying Strangler Baby," a midget serial killer who disguised himself as a baby before stalking victims in his helicopter. Because a baby flying a helicopter is completely inconspicuous.

#277 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2008, 12:53 PM:

Wesley @276 There's also just plain weird content

True. Weird content is another YMMV region. There's a lot of individual difference in calling something weird-that-works vs. declaring it just-plain-weird weird. Heck, I can have both reactions to the same material at different times.

#278 ::: Nevenah ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2008, 04:55 PM:

One of the worst books I've ever read was purchased in the Billings, Montana bus station to fill the hours of a two-day ride back to Wisconsin. The offending article was so bad I nearly threw it out of the window in three different states. I hung on to it, though, just so that I could whip it out on occasions such as this.

"Banners of the Sa'yen" by B.R. Stateham

"We fled quickly through the palace, hurrying up sweeping spiral stairs of exquisite marble that were lit lavishly by large chandeliers of finely blown glass. Tapestries of magnificent richness in color and weave covered the walls as we fled up the sweeping spiral stairs, the main route to the royal landing tower of the palace. Thick carpets of deep Arluian purple covered the stairs and so thick were they we made hardly a sound as we raced upward."

#279 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2008, 05:24 PM:

Nevenah 278: Wow. You just can't tell some people they're getting paid by the word.

#280 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 12:27 AM:

Nevenah @ 278: I think that one goes to the Redundancy Department of Redundancy; perhaps to the attention of the Overly Redundant Minister of Redundant Items.

I'd like to know what exactly "deep Arluian purple" looks like, though.

#281 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2008, 11:43 PM:

I have to ask a question here: I've been reading the LJ entries of a very good artist and webcartoonist that did a chapter by chapter breakdown of the silliness of a YA vampire book (that I think is coming out as a movie) called Twilight. She's had a huge amount of "OMG how can you be so meeeeeean!" posts, and a bunch attacking her for doing her breakdown/reviews. Out of curiosity, has anyone here read this book and can you tell me if it's as bad as it sounds? Oh, and the artist's opinion could probably best be summed up by this installment of her webcomic

#282 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 12:20 AM:

280: I think that's properly called the Department of Redundancy Department, I think.

#283 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Having now located my copy of Robert Merle's The Day of the Dolphin (translated to English by Helen Weaver), I can now bring it to the attention it deserves in this thread.

While the book's subject matter and plot can only be described as "strange", the prose is at times quit disturbing:

"Without any warning their wandering suddenly ceased to be innocent, they began to whirl at unseemly speeds, not in a circle but in a spiral with an upward, counterclockwise movement, creating by nine o'clock a giant funnel seven miles high and sixty miles wide which was already powerful enough to whip the sea into enormous waves, one of which stove in the steel hull of the Colombian cargo ship Tiburon, the water gushed in, the Tiburon send an SOS which was picked up and immediately related by plane of the United States Weather Bureau, the plane went to reconnoitre the hurricane, Henry, said W.D. Dickenson as his aeroplane began to buck terribly and he pointed its nose up to gain altitude, I'll give you the honour of naming this baby, I'll call her Hannah, said Larski, in memory of my first date [...]"

Whew. That's the first 13 lines of that sentence. All punctuation and spelling as in the original (note the obscure mixture of American ['counterclockwise'] and UK ['honour'] English in use). The sentence continues, 17 lines later:

"[...] at four p.m. [Hannah] reached the island of Cozumel and sank three fishing boats which were heading back to the Mexican coast, at six p.m. she crossed the Yucutan Channel, skirted the province of Pinar del Rio where the Cuban guajiros, burrowed in their varas en tierra,* were already awaiting its terrifying arrival, swerved to the northeast, grazed Key West, [...]"

The footnote reads "* Little low huts made of branches, in which the peasants (guajiros) hide during hurricanes."

It carries on this way for several pages (in a single sentence, which isn't even a right-branching sentence, along with a complete lack of punctuation for direct speech), eventually letting us know that the only reason we're being told about this hurricane is that the characters of the story, some distance away in northern Florida, are being subjected to torrential rain. That's it. The rest of this story of devastation, sunk shipping vessels and weather monitoring station staff reminiscing about their first dates is totally pointless.

This is only one of several such megasentences in the book, although it is the only one that includes a footnote to explain the author's visible research notes.

#284 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 02:08 PM:

I would like to erase the first sentence of my last post and start again.

Never mind.

#285 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 02:58 PM:

Bruce @281: I've not read the book, but I've heard some good things about Meyer's writing before.

However, checking the Amazon reviews and filtering out the "best book ever!!!" five star ones, you're left with the impression of a clumsily-written Mary Sue style fic with few redeaming features. Even looking at the four star reviews we have stuff like:

"First of all Bella, while being likeable, seems like a very familiar and overused character type to me. She's incredibly clumsy and uncoordinated, and is liked by everyone she meets, especially the boys."

Uhuh. Mary Sue. Yep.

#286 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 10:55 PM:

Bruce, #281, I haven't read it, but everybody I've heard from thinks it's awful. It's a saga, too. I think it's the fourth book that is just out.

#287 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 11:09 PM:

Bruce @#281: I've read the first third of it, and I couldn't continue after that. It's not that it was so bad (although I sensed it heading downhill); it just wasn't for me.

It started off with a fun-sounding YA fantasy premise--girl goes to small town to live with her emotionally distant father, falls in with a group of vampires at school; is eventually threatened by bad vampires and has to be protected by good vampires. Something like that. It sounded fluffy but the idea of vampires-in-the-open has been done well for adults (by Charlaine Harris, now showing on HBO) and could be good in a YA book.

What it turned into was a story of a girl whose father is absent enough for her to do whateverthefuck she wants, so she falls for a brooding, glittery-eyed, brooding, etc vampire boy, who broods. Meanwhile another boy, who is extremely obviously going to turn out to be a werewolf--a native american boy werewolf--is sweet on her as well, but she's already been hyp-mo-tized by the brooding eyes of, blah blah blah. Oh, I wonder why that pale boy who likes me acts so strange? Could it be that he's...? No, that's impossible, I'd better take a walk in the woods to think it over....

Ye gods. Oh and let's not forget the ancient rivalry between the pale kids and the native american kids. Could it be that they're...? No, that's impossible...

Deleted from my Kindle.

#288 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2008, 11:12 PM:

Jules: Day of the Dolphin might just take the cake.

#289 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2008, 12:18 AM:

Jules, Marilee, Mary Dell: I was afraid it would be something like that, based on the apparent tweener dialog in the attacks on the artist. (It reminded me in a bad way of when Randy Milholland found the LJ group of anorexia nervosa patients who were giving each other weight loss tips and support because their parents and doctors didn't understand that they were too fat. Grossed me out, and I thought that Milholland was going to start speaking in tongues...) Well, at least I know to skip the feature film when it comes out in a couple of months.

#290 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: September 16, 2008, 01:39 PM:

Bruce @289 and above

I read Twilight when it first came out because my then-middle-school-aged daughter and her friends were wild about it, just before it became broadly popular. It wouldn't be my normal reading material, because I don't like vampire books and especially not he's-so-shadowy-and-sexy vampire books, so the fact that I finished it and found it okay is in its favor. I was, I admit, on a cross-country flight when I read it, but I did have another book with me, so I wasn't desperate. I've never felt any desire to read the rest of the series, but I don't think it measures up to other stuff in this thread for badness of content or prose.

My daughter, now in 11th grade, read the second book too and then dropped the series. She reports that her friends are divided between those who still love it, and those who think it's gone downhill, especially with the last book. She also reports that great quantities of truly awful fanfic get written in that universe.

#291 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Mary at 94, sorry, didn't check back in until now..

Wikipedia comes through,'s_egg
The phrase derives from a cartoon in the humorous British magazine Punch on 9 November 1895. Drawn by George du Maurier and entitled "True Humility", it pictured a timid-looking curate (a low-ranking clergyman) taking breakfast in his bishop's house.

The bishop says, "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones." The curate replies, "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"

Growing up we had a 'Best of Punch' compilation which included this and other Victorian cartoons, so it's rather stuck with me..

#292 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 06:04 PM:

Jules @283

So it was the translator?

Apart from the plot being a proto-techno-thriller, about all I recall of Day of the Dolphin is that complete failure to quotemark direct speech.

Has anyone read it in French?

#293 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Doug K (291): Thanks for the information.

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